A Christmas Tale, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, starring Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric and many other brilliant actors, is one of those movies that lets you know it’s a movie. For better or for worse.
So beautiful, with occasional scenes that are truly brilliant, you just wish someone had trimmed away some of the excess so you could say, “I was blown away.”
Each character is wacked with some form of mental illness or low functioning impediment. And Momma needs a bone marrow transplant for her cancer.
It’s dark stuff, indeed, set in a French town just south of the Belgian border, north of Lille. And there’s snow.
I loved the movie for a while. There is an amazing scene, as subtle as anything gets, when the drunken, most problematic grown son, Henri, sits with his mother outside on a bench and they both speak freely about how they don’t like each other. But they do. But they don’t. It has three layers, at least, of ambivalence. And for this alone, I was so happy to have watched this movie.
I particularly liked the work of Emmanuelle Devos who played the wacky girlfriend of Henri. No matter how weird things got, she just sat there completely bemused by the events collapsing around her.
Catherine Deneuve is old, plump and about as brilliant as I’ve ever seen her work. She is one of the rare talents that can exist in front of the camera instead of putting on any kind of show.
There is generous use of direct address to the camera and bagpipes, for no reason at all. You have to love the whimsy. It is also shot so beautifully.
At times I felt like I was watching a modern French version of You Can’t Take it With You. But so what?
As far as French films go, I’d give this one 2.8 out of 4 frogs.