Dyslexic gardener Germain Chazes is considered a simpleton by his so-called friends, and driven to despair by his nasty old bag of a mother (played by Claire Maurier as an old woman and by Anne Le Guernec in the flashbacks). The only joy in his life is derived from his kind, much-younger girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin,) the dubious companionship of his friends, and his hobbies and simple joys.
One day while walking in the park, eccentric Chazes meets also eccentric Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus,) a self-sufficient 95-year-old lady with a passion for books. Her zeal for reading brings up bad memories for ostracization for Chazes, who as a boy was at the mercy of his taunting mother and bullying teacher. However, Chazes reluctantly agrees to let Margueritte read to him, and this opens up new worlds of possibility for him.
Dodgy personal life aside, Gérard Depardieu is very good here as Germaine, who could be a terribly saccharine and stereotypical character. Originally assumed to be mentally disabled, Germaine is soon revealed to have a superior visual memory. His off-centeredness (Germaine counts the pigeons in the park every day and insists on naming them according to personality) may be due to his rather traumatic childhood, or just quintessentially him.
There are many tender and funny moments ("I never did drugs, but I never did books either" Germain muses,) and what could be a dark trek through miserable storytelling concerning Germaine's abusive childhood instead becomes an opportunity for redemption.
"My Afternoons With Margueritte" is a lovely movie that should have something for everyone. The two leads are very likable and quirky (but not in that insufferably self-aware way,) and the friendship at the center of the film is as beautiful and touching as a viewer could ask for. It might make a good double feature with "The Intouchables," another compassionate French friendship movie. A must watch!