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Strawing Small Pebbles in an Untended Garden

Within the frames of Francophone Film Week organized by the French Institute, Diplomacy and Trade visited the press screeding of a marvellous film by Jean Berger titled, 'My Afternoons With Margueritte and talked to the director.

Jean Berger is a contemporary French film director, who is not especially keen on sharing the details of his life with the public. We know that he is from a family where predecessors and offsprings have likewise been fascinated with the motion picture. Everyone in the family has made and is making their contribution to cinema as director, actor and screenwriter. His oeuvre is not very much known in Hungary, though it comprises a long list of films of wide variety – from dark film drama to light-hearted comedy (Deux jours a tuer, Elisa, Un Crime Paradise, Contre LOubli, Les Enfant du marais). Jean Berger is ranked by some among the masters who know the ins and outs of film direction and has a genuinely magnificent sense for telling a tale without an ostentatious parade of spectacles for its own sake.

My afternoons with Margueritte (the original title: La tete en friche) is about two people, who meet daily in the park and count the pigeons. Though, they are an unlikely couple: a fragile, phenomenal, bright old lady, Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus) and a simpleminded, clod-hopper who lives from odd jobs, Germain (Gerard Depardieu). Germain was a bad student humiliated by his mother, teachers, classmates and even friends for his slowwitted mind, but loved and mocked for his frankness with which he always speaks his simple mind. So, Germain finds pleasure in scribbling his name to a memorial which lists dead children and sitting in the park midday feeding the pigeons. There, he meets an old lady, who lives in a parish and finds her pleasure in contemplating books. The first book she starts to read to Germain is The Plague by Camus and through a symbolic inversion the pigeons they count daily in a park become the rats of imagination. The film can
be seen in Hungary from 3rd of March.

How did you find the book from which you have made the film?
I can’t see well, so, there are some helpers who read books for me. One of them found the
book.

Is the relationship between you and your helper is as special as between Germain and
Margueritte?

No, it is nothing similar, though we have a special bond and we know each other very well.

How did you select your actors?
In case of Gerard Depardieu, it was more our agent’s choice. He is a filmaholic with 170
films. I did not have to find Gisele Casadesus, she has been an actor all her life but mainly in the theater and she is a very good character actor. She worked for thirty years in Comedie-Française, and other theatres.

It is a gentle, unmatched film about a family who would pitchfork anyone for offending a loved one but are unable to express their love to each other. Your film suggests that
we can express our gentleness only to strangers. Can we learn our lessons and surpass
our inability to tell our loved ones how much we care for them?

My experience is that there are situations in life when it would be important to speak up
and we just simply cannot. It is perhaps because out of fear that our love won’t be
accepted. We have to be courageous in the given moment, but in many times we let the
moment pass by because we dare not take the risk of being refused of what we can
offer. The language of emotions is very complex, hard to speak.

The visual imagery of La tete en friche is strong and well-developed: pitchforks,
pigeons, rats, actually the film can be told in the language of symbols – do you agree?

Those who write films, when they get absorbed in writing, then they know that every
sign has to be connected in someway; to build up the story. According to the triple rules of
comedy, first, you have to make the audience laugh with an incident, second, make them
laugh with another and the third funny moment has to include a reference to both
incidences, thus to build up a network of reminiscences, to make steps gradually forward on
the route while the director strews small pebbles here and there, which will indicate the
route the viewer takes.

A cruel question regarding Gisele Casadesus, given that she was 95 years old at the time of the shooting - were you not afraid whether she will able to finish her part?
One of my colleagues said that ‘during shooting it is not advised to die’. Seriously: before
shooting I had to quarrel with her not to cycle every single day…! I trusted her vitality. We prepared all her scenes and did the shooting within two weeks. You see, now she is 97 and as lively as ever.

What did you try to achieve with the film? What was the purpose?
I did not want the audience leave the room in the same emotional state they came in. As in the film, Margueritte reads to Germain from Camus that we are only passing figures in
life, this is our true state. And just like Margueritte gives a book – The Plague – to
Germain – with this film I wanted to give something. That’s all.

Alica Árvay

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