English Title: A Christmas Tale
Original Title: Un conte de Noël
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Music: Grégoire Hetzel
Cinematography: Eric Gautier
Today is Christmas Day, so it is the most apposite time to watch this French drama, rife with cancer, marrow transplant, siblings rivalry, unstable mentality, chronic depression, familial incest and distant mother-child relationship, very Christmasy!
A follow-up of KINGS & QUEEN (2004), French art house director Arnaud Desplechin concocts a fine potpourri of familial entanglements around the bourgeois Vuillard family, opens with a consequential animated preamble of the loss of their eldest son Joseph at the age of 6 due to a hereditary blood disease while no compatible marrow transplant is found in both parents, the daughter Elizabeth (Consigny) and the second son Henri (Amalric), who is conceived to offer a cure to his elder brother. But time goes on, a third son Ivan (Poupaud) is born, and now they are all grown-ups, then the matriarch Junon (Denueve) discovers that she suffers from the same disease, the only compatible donors are Henri and Elizabeth’s son Paul (Berling), hence this Christmas, a family reunion is endowed with a more grave determinant, especially for the black sheep in the family Henri, after a 6-year banishment (due to an unspecified riff with Elizabeth), his return with his new Jewish girlfriend Faunia (Devos) will undoubtedly thrust the tension with Elizabeth’s family and have an impact on Junon’s final resolve to her impending treatment.
Screen time is almost equally allotted to the all-star cast with their own stories intermingle in a short span of the timeline, although the main stream focuses on Henri and Junon’s reconciliation, but it is not a beatific movie to bury the hatchet and embrace a pristine future, every family has its distinctive script written with plenitude of relatable interactions, notably, the mutual attraction between Ivan’s wife Sylvia (played by Chiara Mastroianni, Denueve’s real life daughter with Marcello Mastroianni) and Ivan’s cousin Simon (Capelluto) clicks wonderfully in the latter part of the film, it is very French as well, for moralistic puritans and prudes, it is a sheer crevice in their convictions which will prompt harsh opprobrium.
One trait of superfluity is the chunk of monologues, colloquies with staccato coherence, loose ends are all over the place, we can never decipher the real motivations and reasons behind certain behaviors which adhere to a particular terrain of mores; also the peephole shots introduces each chapter gives the film a stage structure and the occasional talk-to-the-camera shtick often comes out of nowhere, they may variegate the viewers’ recipiency but are inconsistent in the plot development and engender some distractions hinder the appreciation.
Amalric and Mastroianni are my pick among the ensemble, he is a true thespian with utter devotion while she bears her father’s resemblance and an arresting existence whenever she is on screen. Devos is enjoyable as an unobtrusive intruder (reminds me to watch an Angela Basset film), Denueve is as distant as always, graceful but stereotyped, Poupaud is too damn good-looking for his shyness and benevolence and Consigny is perpetually frowned and distressed, enclosed in her own little world, one might feel too depressed to invest in her.
In conclusion, it is not your average Christmas flick, but a less chic showpiece about kindred liaisons than Assayas’ SUMMER HOURS (2008).