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La Tête en friche

(My Afternoons With Margueritte)

From French cinemaestro Jean Becker

La Tête en friche (My Afternoons With Margueritte) poster art

Best viewed with a baguette and a Bordeaux, and while wearing a beret, veteran director Jean Becker’s La Tête en friche is French feel-good filmmaking to the max. Yet a heaping pile of cliches doesn’t prevent this touchingly simplistic tale – about a fiftysomething knucklehead who encounters the titular senior on a park bench and learns some valuable lessons about life and literature – from exuding a strong and universal emotional appeal, backed by Gérard Depardieu’s finely tuned performance as a dungaree-wearing ogre with a heart.

Adapted from a novel by the director with Jean-Loup Dabadie (a frequent collaborator of the late Claude Sautet), the film follows the travails of kindhearted lug Germain (Dépardieu), who’s been so traumatized by his mother that, as foretold via a series of Dickensian flashbacks, he’s never amounted to much in life. But when Germain meets retireeMargueritte (Gisèle Casadesus, Palais royal) on a park bench, she begins to teach him about the wonders of French literature, reading aloud from the works of Camus and Romain Gary, and imparting to him the gift of knowledge, along with a much-needed boost of self-confidence.

Though this sounds a bit hokey, there’s still something innately moving, and ultimately inspiring, about watching a man, with the help of a good book, climb out of the hole of ignorance and malice he was raised in. Only an actor as seasoned and talented as Dépardieu could make some of the film’s more cringe-worthy scenes (such as a quasi-surreal one in which, for several long minutes, Germain reads passages from the dictionary to his cat) play out rather well, and he’s abetted by 96-year old Casadesus’ smart performance.

The title La Tête en friche refers to an uncultured individual, and in agricultural terms, ‘en friche’ can mean an uncultivated plot of land – a reference to a simple mind, like Germain’s, that’s ripe for planting.

– Jordan Mintzer, Variety

‘Un livre est une fenêtre par laquelle on s’évade’, disait Julien Green. Celle de Germain, la cinquantaine ‘ hénaurme’, quasi analphabète, est aveugle. Jusqu’au jour où, dans un square, il fait la connaissance de Germaine, vieille dame digne et passionnée de lecture. Sa vie en est changée.

Quarante ans et cent kilos les séparent. Les livres vont les rapprocher. Elle lit à haute voix La Peste et ouvre à Germain des horizons insoupçonnés sur le plaisir des mots et les richesses du savoir.Lente initiation qui voit la métamorphose du colosse Depardieu pris sous le charme de Gisèle Casadesus, abeille malicieuse et épicurienne.

Cinéaste à l’ancienne, Jean Becker observe ces deux personnages, sans interférer dans cette alchimie qui les unit. Depardieu l’autodidacte fait passer toutes les émotions. Ce rôle est taillé pour sa carcasse usée et il n’a jamais été aussi juste, aussi sincère, face à sa frêle partenaire, tout en élégance.

– Jean-Luc Wachthausen, Figaroscope

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