A Christmas Tale (in French with English subtitles) brings something invigorating to the old-fashioned mix, as the holidays always seem to bring out a variety of emotions.
The epic-long picture by Arnaud Desplechin which takes place in his hometown of Roubaix, France works so well because of the touch he shares with his co-writer Emmanuel Bourdieu into the dynamics of family dysfunction.
The early middle-age auteur may have fashioned something that U.S. audiences may perceive as a snooty soap-opera or at least have some young adults considering alternatives to getting married or starting a family.
A deft lightness of filmmakers, cast, and crew makes this familiar excursion something sublime and coming across like a lyrical cinematic cryptogram.
Working from Jean-Pierre Jouet's tome, "La greffe", Desplechin and Bourdieu coherently execute the melodrama with amusing, sharp touches along the way to a redemption that the cast embraces in highly sympathetic ways.
The still ravishing Catherine Deneuve is Junon, afflicted with a terminal leukemia, which may have passed along to one of her children who died while in early primary school. Junon had more children with much older spouse Abel (Jean-Paul Roussilon) with the possibility that a sibling could have been the ideal bone-marrow donor.
So, this convocation of separate lives among immediate family has its share of underpinnings and catharsis (on many levels) as Junon undergoes bone marrow surgery with the search for a potential donor. Anne Consigny and Hippolyte Girardot register nicely as a pensive playwright wife and mathematician husband as her daughter and son-in-law.
Melvil Poupaud is fine as beloved son Ivan, but Mathieu Amalric (currently as the heavy in the action-packed Quantum of Solace) as the prodigal son Henri is rather proficient in the polar extremes of emotion, and serves as a source of comic relief.
A Christmas Tale is an intricate, intimate magnum opus with each of the main, well-developed characters important to its sum as Desplechin doesn't shun the physical aspects of an ailing matriarch, letting the viewer eaves drop on a hematologist's analysis of blood cells and platelets. Genetic differences and being with your soul mate obviously doesn't ensure life-long bliss, but the integration of the likes of Shakespeare and puppets charms what could have been a bony, bogged-down cinematic microscope. And, besides having the delightful Deneuve and Amalric, this carefully, calibrated prescient cousin to The Barbarian Invasions in honest, unsentimental familial interaction boasts some pop tunes and a bit of Mendelssohn that is very easy on the ears.
|A Christmas Tale||B+||B+|