European cinema doesn't have as many surefire formulas as Hollywood, but the one described, I think, by Pauline Kael as the "lonely child, clean old man" scenario has long endured. In Jean Becker's bittersweet comedy, the "child" is Germain, a near-village idiot played by a tank-like Gerard Depardieu. The unloved product of his floozy mother's one-night stand, he has put up with mockery and abuse his whole life. Replacing the clean old man is a clean old woman, the nonagerian bibliophile of the title, whom Germain meets on a park bench where both have come to count the pigeons. Soon Margueritte is expanding Germain's mind by reading to him. Their first book: Camus's The Plague. What would it be in the inevitable Disney version? Goodnight, Moon? The film's twists don't stop with reading matter, however, as Germain's flashbacks turn ambiguous and his friendship with Margueritte becomes complicated. Though mostly sunny, Afternoons has its chills.