A Christmas Tale (2008)

I’ve heard nothing but good things about writer/director Arnaud Desplechin’s film, A Christmas Tale. Knowing the basic plot of the story, I was intrigued to see this movie. It has a Metacritic score of 84. What was something lost in translation or is this terrible mess of a film? Don’t get me wrong. I love French movies, but not all of them are brilliant. Case in point, this one.

The Vuillard family in this film makes the Burnham family in American Beauty look like the Brady Bunch. No lie. This family has been irrecoverably broken when the first son, Joseph develops a form of lymphoma and dies when he could not get a donor in time.

Fast forward thirty-five years, the middle son, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) is unceremoniously banished — excuse me, who banishes people anymore? What is it the 1500s? — from his family by his big sister, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) who is hoarding some unresolved animosity toward her brother. That might be a blessing in disguise because these people are batshit crazy. Literally.

Five years, Elizabeth is so eager to cut Henri out of his life, but she still talks about him during her therapy sessions. She is a complete basket case when her playwriting career didn’t take off the way it should, because of Henri’s dealing with stealing from the theater that housed her plays.

The unloving matriarch, Junon played by the regal Catherine Deneuve learns that she has refractory anemia attributed to her liver cancer diagnosis. The news leave her husband, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) dumbfounded. Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to any chance to survive. Due to her rare blood type, she has to test her immediate family, which has to include Henri who lives with his cousin, Simon (Laurent Capelluto).

Upon hearing the Junon’s news, Elizabeth’s mentally unstable son, Paul (Emile Berling) has a break down, is hospitalized and tested. He is a match for a donor. He is released from the hospital pumped full of pharmaceutical drugs. He seems to know where his uncle works at even though they never seen each other before to invite him to spend time with the family during Christmastime.

To prepare for the inevitable fallout, Henri writes a letter to Elizabeth to tell her about being civil towards one another through his maniacal drunken ramblings. When the family comes together, they tend to be awkward and distant toward each other. The younger brother, Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) tries to be peacekeeper of the family. In a convenient twist, Henri is tested to be compatible as well. Dun-dun-dun. Junon has a choice; will she accept marrow from a grandson she barely knows or her son that she openly despises? Decisions, decisions.

The ultimate question to pose to you, dear reader, is what is the point of this movie? These people are horrible towards each other for seemingly no reason. They gave up on being a family. They are miserable human beings that make me not want to spend time with them. What were Desplechin intentions here? The central “mystery” of the movie was never solved. Throw the viewer a bone. You don’t have to spell it out. Give us something to work with. Why was Elizabeth so pissed at Henri? Why did she try to keep Paul away from him when they were in a room together?

The movie strives to be grandiose, but it hinges on the melodramatic. What the hell was up with the peephole camera transitions? That bothers the hell out of me. Do we need the subplot of Ivan’s lazy wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) try to have a fling with Simon? Who cares? This movie was 2 ½ hours long. It felt longer. It was agony.

Judgment: How could anybody recommend this movie?

Rating: * 1/2

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About Branden

Branden: I am just your average movie nut that reviews films. Gives his take on pop culture and Hollywood happenings. Dreams to have his own thriving website and make a living doing what he is passionate about.

Posted on June 19, 2010, in 2008, Comedy, Drama, Foreign Language and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What the what?! I think this is the most violently we’ve ever disagreed on a film. I definitely see where you’re coming from. Your arguments are sound. But I felt the antics of the film were totally charming and endearing. I’m not one to post links to my own reviews, but: http://bitchinfilmreviews.com/a-christmas-tale-un-conte-de-noel/

    • I read your review, Blake. No offense, but I didn’t see any point of why the film is so excepted for empty praise. I understand that you love this film. I’m still not convinced otherwise. I wasn’t dissuaded that I was harsh with my review.

  2. At least it wasn’t just me. I had to watch this for film class last semester and was actively counting down until 10:00 the whole runtime.

  3. No offense taken. I was just interested at how polarizing this film seemed to be. And I didn’t think you were too harsh, either.

    • I didn’t want to bash the film. I wanted some clarity. I didn’t want it spell out for me. Give me a morsel.

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