Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Tale

When Abel and Junon's eldest child became sick with bone cancer, neither themselves, their daughter Elizabeth, nor their recently arrived son Henri could save their sickly child. After the arrival of another son Ivan, the Vuillard seemed to carry the weight of this terrible tragedy. As an adult, Elizabeth is inexplicably unhappy married to a wayward husband and mother to a mentally ill son. After paying ne'er-do-well Henri's debts and saving him from a prison sentence, she insists that they never speak again. After five years of estrangement, the news that Junon has contracted the same cancer that killed their son brings the family together when Henri is found to be compatible. Now the troubled family are forced to face years of guilt and resentment in the face of this new hardship. "A Christmas Tale" is a wonderful film from French director Arnaud Desplechin, a film that follows no ordinary routes in a story that just begs for a standard treatment. I could just imagine the American version, replete with flatulent jokes, unearned sentiment, and a rushed artless feel. Instead, Desplechin constructs a beautiful cinematic film, filled with a variety of music and film techniques, that makes no easy compromises with its well developed characters. The great Catherine Deneuve gives a sublime performance as the matricarch of the family and Mathieu Amalric is equally wonderful as the shiftless Henri. I imagine most shudder when they hear the term 'holiday family comedy'. "A Christmas Tale" is the perfect antidote to those tired and routine yuletide offerings.