New Movies -
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Old Movies -
Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2008)
Thereís no shortage of strain here, to be sure. Not since Margot at the Wedding have interfamilial interactions in a movie been so barbed. Idiosyncrasies abound in this large family of intellectuals, and each of them is pounced upon without the slightest hint of remorse. Characters analyze each other incessantly, making the cancer that afflicts the clanís matriarch seem more like a metaphorical descriptor of the malignant tensions that fester all too near the surface throughout. Some of the scariest of these threats never manifest themselves in the drama, but the way that they bubble under effectively demonstrates how stressful family life can be, even when things are ostensibly fine. The juicy setup and livewire cast makes for compulsive viewing, recalling a good television program, but it plays far faster and with more style than anything thatís been broadcast on TV, thanks to Desplechinís superb direction.
A Christmas Tale succeeds both as an examination of peculiar family dynamics and a showcase for its cast. Even Mathieu Amalric, who disrupted the tone every time he appeared in Kings & Queen, integrates seamlessly into the ensemble this time, with a typically off-kilter characterization. The film tries to say so much, with so many characters, that itís amazing that as much of it works as well as it does. Admittedly, in its second half, there are passages where the film seems both a tad too all-reaching in its scope and a bit too perfectly incisive in its charactersí dissections of their own relationships, but that moment of doubt passes quickly. The overall impression is of a movie thatís generous to a fault. Yes, itís perhaps too blunt in its delivery, too acutely aware of its own messiness, and too visually flamboyant to feel like a truly great movie, but itís not far off from being one. It details the complicated, conflicted personalities of a group of individuals with a frankness and callousness rarely seen. Perhaps the most touching, shocking, wrong, and right scene in A Chirstmas Tale involves the family gathering together to calculate their motherís lifespan on a blackboard. Itís a gesture thatís at once loving and appalling. It sums up the film perfectly.