Monday, February 16, 2009
A Christmas Tale ***1/2
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon
Anne Consigny, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud
Hippolyte Girardot, Emmanuelle Devos, Chiara Mastroianni
Laurent Capelluto, Emile Berling, Thomas Obled, Clément Obled
Junon Vuillard (a truly splendid Deneuve) has been diagnosed with a form of degenerative cancer, she needs a bone marrow transplant that might aid her or kill her.
Her husband Abel (Roussillon moving and warm) invites their whole family to come together for the first time in years and celebrate the holidays. But this brings trouble with the return of the prodigal son Henri (Amalric who is brilliant) who was banished years before by his older sister Elizabeth (Consigny) who's dealing with her son Paul's (Berling) suicide attempt.
There's also an uncomfortable love triangle between their youngest brother Ivan (Poupaud), his wife Sylvia (a sparkling Mastroianni) and their cousin Simon (Capelluto). Plus Henri's new girlfriend Faunia (Devos who injects the film with a delightful sort of selfaware humor) who is Jewish and refuses to participate in Christian celebrations.
With as much balls as patience, director Desplechin puts all these people under the same roof, along with their feuds, secrets, genetic troubles, illnesses and inner demons, for the space of four days with some brilliant, unexpected results.
"A Christmas Tale" could've easily turned into one of the following: the rehearsal for a reality show, one of those quirky dysfunctional family dramas that rely heavily on eccentricity or one of those sappy American dramas where forgiveness and enlightenment come to the melody of Bing Crosby.
What this film turns out to be is something quite different; an amalgam of sorts of film styles, self conscious references, acting methods, moods, colors and emotions, something that sounds chaotic but actually makes more sense than it should and feels right because it manages to represent the tension that arises whenever families come together.
Sometimes it feels as if Desplechin himself doesn't want for these people to solve their problems (which he probably never intended to do), because instead of uniting their themes, he stresses out how different they are.
Therefore Consigny's scenes, some of which involve an analyst, feel extracted from a Bergman play, Poupaud's have picaresque Truffaut strokes, Amalric's seem to be have been written by Moliére on steroids and a particular scene involving Devos and Deneuve practically screams Hitchcock.
He grabs them, splits them in unorthodox ways, puts them together like he wishes, breaks the fourth wall constantly and even has time to include flashbacks, shadow theater, a wonderful Angela Bassett reference, Charlton Heston shouting in French and an improvised play before dinner. How this odes to individuality play together beautifully like a choir is one of the many miracles in Desplechin's Christmas.