Movies: La Tete en Friche * * *
(15A, Limited release)
No one could accuse Gérard Depardieu of being a slacker. At 62, the great man still churns out three or four films a year. In fact, he's so prolific and seemingly undiscerning about script quality that it's easy to forget he's a sublimely talented screen actor.
He often canters through movies that don't interest him, but is capable of lifting even the dreariest production above the ordinary when the mood strikes him. And this sugary and relentlessly sentimental comic drama from veteran director Jean Becker is a case in point.
In La Tete en Friche, Depardieu plays Germain Chazes, an odd-job manual labourer in a small rural town who lives in a caravan in his mother's garden.
Germain has a group of loyal friends at the local café and a girlfriend who loves him, but he's scarred by memories of a difficult childhood and the enduring contempt of his vindinctive mother.
But salvation comes from an unlikely source when Germain meets an elderly lady called Margueritte in a park.
She is charmed by his concern for a group of pigeons, whom he counts and names. And he is enchanted when she reads him a passage from Albert Camus' The Plague. Germain, it turns out, cannot read and, as Margueritte introduces him to the delights of literature, they form a lasting bond.
For the most part, Jean Becker's film is a schmaltzy middle-market comedy that's a familiar strain in French commercial cinema. It lays on the sentiment so thick that you know from pretty early on that nothing very bad is going to happen here.
But now and then Depardieu and his delightful co-star Gisèle Casadesus, who's in her mid-90s, turn ordinary scenes into moving and delightful little moments.