31 Days of Christmas Movies Marathon: Day 5 – A Christmas Tale

Welcome to my 31 Days of Christmas movie marathon.  This is a feature where I watch a different Christmas movie every day from now until Christmas.  The rules are simple: The movie has to be something I haven’t already seen and I must watch at least one Christmas-themed movie a day from now until December 25th.  They’ll be some bad ones and hopefully a lot of great ones.  Why put myself through this?  Because it’s a good way to catch up on a lot of Christmas movies and a good way to satisfy my OCD.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… A Christmas Tale

Genetics are a son-of-a-bitch, and so is middle child, Henri, as played by Mathieu Amalric.  He, along with an equally strong cast of actors, have crafted an engaging and dramatic piece of holiday theatrics, that, if handled by most any other director would more than likely come off as inflated and/or melodramatic, something A Christmas Tale is definitely not.  Because, regardless of all the twists and turns that take place from the wordy and fast-paced script, this movie, at its heart, has a pretty simple message.  It reminds us about the role in which family plays in our lives.  From the womb to the tomb we’re forever bound to them whether we like it or not.

The always brilliant Catherine Deneuve plays Junon, matriarch of the Vuillard family and hostess to a four-day reunion with her three children, emotional baggage and all.  After Junon receives word that she has degenerative cancer and that she needs a bone marrow transfusion the search for a donor within the family begins.  Only two test positive to be a donor, yet only one will wind up giving their blood.

This premise alone would be more than enough material to easily fill an entire 2.5 hours of drama engulfing cinema, yet in Arnaud Desplechin and Emmanuel Bourdieu‘s script this plot-point is merely a thick sliver of turkey on a plate loaded to the till with all kinds of appetizing sides.  Staying with the food analogy, as my mind is clearly still on Thanksgiving, those sides include sizzling sibling rivalry, spoonfuls of selfishness, pitchers of profound poetry, and plenty of alcohol.

For me, what struck me most about this film was not the array of food for thought but the table on which the filmmakers are serving it.  For the time that I spent with the Vuillards I was rewarded with having the privilege of an intimate familiarity with every family member and that’s not an easy feat for a scriptwriter and a director to pull off, still a feat Desplechin had no trouble accomplishing.

This being the first Desplechin film that I’ve seen I was quite impressed.  He not only makes appropriate use of a handful of techniques, but masterful use as well.  There’s chapter headings, actors talking to the audience, iris shots, split screen, shadow puppets, multiple first-person voice overs, and voice overs of an unknown narrator.  Never once do any of these techniques distract from the movie at large.

I find it odd that a Christmas movie determined to revel in the opposite of what more traditional feel-goody holiday films offer can leave me feeling so joyous.  This feeling comes not so much from the film’s take on the dysfunctional family but from an actual filmmaking point of view.  Impressive, to say the least.

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