Two Fine French Films

For this week in the blogging events Paris in July 2014 and Dreaming of France, I’m sharing with you two fine, French Films. They are not new movies, but probably you had missed them when they first screened a few years ago, or they might not have screened in your area. I came across them only recently. Interestingly, they make a fine pair for they both touch on very similar themes.

My Afternoons with Margueritte (“La tête en friche”, 2010)

This comedy based on the book by French author Marie-Sabine Roger stars the famous French actor Gérard Depardieu as an uncouth, middle-aged construction worker, Germain Chazes. His lack of literacy skill is benign when compared to the low self-image he suffers as a result of the constant taunting from his teachers and classmates when he was young, and the life-long scolding from a harsh and overbearing mother (Claire Maurier). To his misfortune, Germain still has to live near her and take care of her, a woman now has senility to add to her abusive outbursts.

Germain’s life comes to a turning point when he meets Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus, who just turned 100 in June this year!) one afternoon on a park bench. Margueritte is an elderly lady living in a retirement home, and spends her afternoons in the park. She soon engages Germain to open up. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between the two.

My Afternoons with Margueritte

More importantly, Margueritte leads Germain to a whole new world of books and literature. She reads to him The Plague by Albert Camus, going through it in ten afternoons. He listens and is totally entranced by the language and the imagery.

When she reads to him Promise At Dawn, the memoir by Romain Gary, he is absorbed by the author’s description of his late mother’s love for him, and especially moved by the imagery of Gary “howling at her grave like an abandoned dog.” He begins to see his own predicament with the lens from the books Margueritte reads to him.

Who says literature belongs to the academics, or those in the ivory tower of the intellectual and sophisticated. Why is it so incongruent to hear a construction worker quoting Camus, or his seeing the world in literary imageries, or being tender and caring for a change. Germain’s friends tease him, they want the old Germain back. But Germain knows too well that he has crossed the point of no return, and that his transformation is empowering.

Soon, with the help of his girl friend Annette (Sophie Guillemin), Germain learns to read on his own. Further, he has learned to give back to Margueritte in an endearing way. As far as the story trajectory goes, Germain could well write a book entitled How Camus Can Change Your Life (that’s mine, not in the film).

Charming performances and great screen chemistry between Depardieu and Casadesus. A heart-warming story with sprinkles of humour for added appeal. A delightful and worthwhile film to watch.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


Queen to Play (“Joueuse”, 2009)

Along the same thematic line is this quiet and stylish production set in the beautiful French island Corsica just off the mainland. From Depardieu’s construction worker we now have a middle-aged chambermaid, Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire), who works in a seaside hotel. Hélène goes through an inner transformation even more dramatic than Germain’s. It is interesting to watch the game where the Queen is the most powerful piece is freed from its male dominance for a change.

Originally titled “Joueuse” (The Player), the film is based on the novel by French author Bertina Henrichs. Director Caroline Bottaro has  displayed an inviting game board for us viewers to interact with, for watching the film makes us witnesses to a game change.

Sandrine Bonnaire’s portrayal of Hélène is sensitive and nuanced. The turning point of her life comes one day while cleaning a room. Through the translucent curtain swayed by the soft wind, she sees the hotel guests, a couple (Jennifer Beals, Dominic Gould), playing chess out in the balcony. She is fully mesmerized. The game board, the pieces they touch, their mutual affection bonded by the game not only send out vibes of sensuality but of intellectual stimulation. (She beats him, BTW) From then on, Hélène is obsessed with chess.

She gives her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) an electronic chess set for his birthday. While he is unappreciative of the gift, many a nights Hélène would slip out of bed quietly and learn to play on her own. She now sees every piece of crumb, every salt and pepper set on the table a movable chess piece, any checkered surface a chessboard on which she can prance to her imagery delight.

Queen to play

Other than her hotel job, Hélène does cleaning for a mysterious widower, Dr. Kröger, played by Kevin Kline, his first French-speaking role. Hélène finds a chess set on his bookshelf and asks him to teach her the game. Skeptical and annoyed at first, Dr. Kröger agrees when she offers to clean his place for free in exchange for chess lessons. He soon discovers that Hélène is not only serious but gifted. After a few lessons, she begins to win repeatedly.

But Hélène keeps her pursuit secret, afraid of reverberations, and misunderstanding from her husband. Why does she need to be so sneaky? Can’t a woman desire matters of the mind? Can’t a chambermaid be absorbed by the game of chess, set foot on a male-dominated, intellectual territory? Would Hollywood make a movie like this?

Hélène’s teenaged daughter is her supporter at home when her husband finds out. He too later yields to her passion as Hélène enters her first tournament upon Dr. Kröger’s recommendation.

Oh I love these French films, for they unabashedly praise the arts, literature, and intellectual pursuits; their protagonists quietly shattering social norms and barriers to personal fulfillment. Queen to Play reminds me of Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Do you need to know how to play chess to enjoy the film? No. Actually, the camera seldom focuses on the chessboard. Instead, we see the faces of the chess players, that is where we read all the emotions.

Intriguing as chess moves, beautiful as the crafted pieces, the film is a joy to watch, a satisfying winner.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Paris In July 2014Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel***

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog Book Review

Séraphine and the Wrought-Iron Chair: Review of the film Séraphine

Haute Cuisine Movie Review

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

39 thoughts on “Two Fine French Films”

  1. These are two fantastic themes for films! I play chess and have often wondered about the parallels you could draw between the puzzlement of a sacrifice, or the revelation of a discovered attack. It’s very satisfying when you win, and the intensity of battle can be all consumin.


    1. Denise,

      Chess as a game of life… totally relevant. Do check this movie out, you’d find it an apt metaphor of empowerment. Corsica is a beautiful setting for the story as well.


  2. I loved My Afternoons with Margueritte – such a charming film, I agree. I haven’t seen Queen to Play so I’ll add that one to my list, thank you!


    1. Letizia,

      Isn’t that a delightful film? And you know the actress who played Margueritte, Gisèle Casadesus, has turned 100 in June. Her first movie role was back in 1934. She made this movie when she was 95 years old. Simply Amazing! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Queen to Play as well.


  3. Thanks for these reviews, Arti. I think my mom would like them very well. She’s always asking me if I’ve seen any good films recently. So I’m glad to have you as a resource 😀


    1. nikkipolani,

      Thanks for coming to the pond for your film recommendations. You know, I hope you’ll watch these two films with your mom, cause I think you’ll enjoy them too, not just your mom. 😉


  4. Sounds like 2 good films. I haven’t seen either of them so will remember these titles fot next winter when I am in need of something French. Thanks!


  5. They do both sound lovely films, but I swore off watching Gerard Depardieu in anything after I saw a particularly awful film with him in the 90s sometimes. It was so awful that I have blocked all memory of the name, but I’ve been true to my pledge. That film does sound particularly delightful, I wish I could see it, but don’t think I can. I do love how often French films celebrate literature and the arts.


    1. Louise,

      GD isn’t my kind of actor either. Actually didn’t have fond memories from the few I’d seen. But here he’s surprisingly charming. Well, it just shows how versatile the actor is I suppose. If you skip My Afternoons with Margueritte, you can still check out Queen to Play. That’s a more absorbing and stylish film.


    1. Paulita,

      It’s definitely a fun and busy month visiting all the interesting French-memed blogs. Thanks for hosting the Dreaming of France event.


    1. Barbara,

      Thanks. I’m sure you’ll enjoy these two films. Feel free to stop by again and share your thoughts after you’ve watched them. I’d be curious to know what you think. 😉


  6. I read your review on the movie Haute Cuisine – I have to see if it is playing around here. I also read your review of Alan de Botton – sounds like an interesting read. You know while in Paris last May I tried to find second-hand paper backs of my missing volumes of Proust, but I had not brought the titles of those I have, so I did buy 3, in French, but I think one is a duplicate. I also enjoyed your reviews of the two French films which I have not seen. Our eldest daughter Celine just moved back to Atlanta and she gets Netflix and other programs to watch old films so I’ll ask her to get these two. I know you are involved with the Paris in July program, but for me, just watching the Tour de France live I really feel like I am in France in July, then at the end, next Sunday, the race ends in Paris.


    1. VB,

      Glad to hear from you again. Thanks for reading my French posts so carefully. Yes, I saw these two films on Netflix. I’m sure your daughter will enjoy them. And you will too. I haven’t been following the Tour de France, but get all the excitement from your blog Recollections of a Vagabonde. Actually that’s what I’ll do right now, go and catch up on your recent posts. 😉


  7. I love French films. My favourites are; Amelie, Cyrano de Bergerac, Nikita, The Big Blue, Tell No One, The Three Colours Trilogy and so the list goes on. Will need to keep an eye out for the two you mention above.


    1. Chris,

      Good to hear from you again. The Three Colours Trilogy is mesmerizing, and Tell No One a captivating thriller. My favourite French film, actually it’s one of my all time faves in any language, is I’ve loved You So Long with Kristin Scott Thomas. Have you seen it? The link here is to my review, in case you’re interested. 😉


      1. Oh my this is spooky. I recorded ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ on my Tivo on Monday night. Kirsten Scott Thomas is a great actress and I am looking forward to watching the afore-mentioned film. Scott Thomas’s French language and accent are perfect. It must help being married to a Frenchman and living in France as she does. Writing of actresses with perfect French language sills and accent, i’ts surprising Jodie Foster doesn’t act in more French films as her French language skills and accent are also perfect. I have only seen her one French film by one of my favourite director’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet, ‘A Very Long Engagement’. Apparently she dubs herself in French movies.


        1. Chris,

          KST is one of my all time faves. Images of her in The English Patient are indelible in my mind. It’s unfortunate that she hasn’t been getting good roles all these years, nothing to revitalize her charm since that movie. I’m not a French-speaker, so her French is as French can be to me. Haven’t watched Jodie F. in a French film, I should look that one up. Here in Queen to Play, Kevin Kline is in his first French-speaking role. You might like to check him out. 😉


          1. I have always had a soft spot for Kevin Kline. By co-incidence, being this post is about French films, one of my favourite romantic comedies is French Kiss with Kevin and Meg Ryan. I will look out for Queen to Play.


  8. Arti, Thank you for this post and the recommendations – J’adore French movies! You are a wonderful writer and your intellect and taste are impeccable.


  9. Both of these sound excellent — though I have to admit that the first (Marguerite) enchants me just a wee bit more. In any event, I am looking forward to finding either or both of these — sooner rather than later!


  10. I’m definitely going to see the second film. I used to play chess regularly. My dad taught me, and we played every weekend until I left home. Somewhere I have a wonderful (funny) photo of the two of us – him in a sloppy old sweatshirt, me with my hair in curlers, playing chess on the floor of our living room.

    I must say the first film is appealing, too. I’m always entranced by films or stories that show the old/young divide being crossed in a positive way, and this certainly qualifies as that!


    1. Linda,

      Since you’re a chess player, then you’d appreciate this film even more. I taught myself the game when my son was small so I could teach him. After he learned how to play he didn’t need me so I let the skill slip. My purpose for learning the game had been achieved anyway. Honestly, I don’t have the enthusiasm for the game. But this film sure is captivating.


  11. No one else provides me with as many desirable films to see! I love the sound of both of these, but really must get hold of My Afternoons with Marguerite. That sounds like the perfect movie to me.


  12. Oh gosh serendipity strikes, I’m taking French classes for the first time next year and have started with The Aristocats to get used to the sounds and words, and I thought I’d move on to French films, so useful thank you.


    1. Arti, I just wanted to say excellent recommendation. I watched ‘My Afternoons with Margueritte’ last night with my Mum and we both adored it. Beautiful ending, loved the story and the simplicity of the film-making. We’ve got the one about the French chef Cuisine.. from your other post to watch tomorrow.


      1. Charlotte,

        I’m glad both you and your Mum had enjoyed it. Hope it had also helped a little in preparing you for your French course next term. I’m sure you’ll like Haute Cuisine as well. 😉


        1. Watched Haute Cuisine late last night, another fabulous film that you recommended. Dad said Hortense reminded him so much of my Mum he stopped what he was doing and watched it with us :). Thank you.


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