French film brings out joy of Christmas

December 5, 2008

A Christmas Tale: Henry (Mathieu Amalric) in a scene from the amovie.

A Christmas Tale: Henry (Mathieu Amalric) in a scene from the amovie.

My family has classic clashes over what movie would be best to shell out almost sixty dollars for when going to the theater. Usually there are three sides to all of our arguments. My oldest brother, my mother, and I want to see something we’ve seen previews of and will leave us smiling or crying (my oldest brother is a big fan of trying to hold back tears but failing) by the end of the movie. My middle brother (I’m the youngest) leans in favor of the movies that have a grittier feel to them (i.e. Saving Private Ryan or Munich). Finally, my father likes to choose the foreign film (or another movie no one has ever heard of) that has been reviewed well by important film critics. We then proceed to quarrel over which movie makes the most to sense to see (making sure to look at time, location, and how long the actual movie is). Ultimately, we end up seeing my father’s choice because no one else in the family has enough energy to continue the argument.

However, during our Thanksgiving break, this scenario did not play out how it normally does. The tryptophan must have kicked into overdrive because as soon as my father nominated a film everyone in the family calmly decided the choice was acceptable. The movie selected was A Christmas Tale, a French film about a dysfunctional family with a history of mental and physical illness coming together for the holidays (obviously it was my father’s pick). In retrospect, I should have known that if my father had chosen the movie it would not exactly scream heartwarming holiday film. I blame my inability to argue for another movie on the exhaustion caused by playing football with my family the day before. I had too many aches and metaphorical bruises to tell my father I would rather see the new Vince Vaughn movie (which not so coincidentally is also about dysfunctional families during the holidays, but probably has less to do with mental and physical health issues) than the movie I was about to sit through.

Arnaud Desplechin’s holiday film tries to be about many things. The main storyline focuses on an estranged family that comes together for its sick matriarch (Catherine Deneuve) who needs a bone marrow transplant on Christmas. But, the subplots and familial relations are so dense and rich with story that the viewer is given more than enough plot to keep him or her content for the long running time of the movie. Desplechin mixes comedy and drama deftly throughout the length of the film, making it easy for the viewer to care about the characters. In between the family’s fistfights, shouting matches, and tears, the viewer is given a true to life portrait of a family’s time spent together.

Ultimately, the movie’s greatest strength (rich subplots), also leads to its downfall. Despite the strong characters created the time spent on the ending does not allow for a successful or thorough enough resolution for all the different storylines. The conclusion is too abrupt, and because of this the movie seems unfinished. For me the ending was so disappointing I ended up spending the entire thirty-minute car ride complaining to my father (who seemed to think the movie was excellent) about it. The rest of my family disliked the movie for other reasons; these differing opinions resulted in a large shouting match for the rest of the night.

Looking back on it, perhaps A Christmas Tale was not exactly the holiday movie I wanted to see. But, despite my dislike for the film it did do what every holiday movie is supposed to do. It made me yearn for the holidays. It made me feel more festive. It made me feel as though it was Christmas. Seriously, what could bring joy to a family than shouting at one another about movies? I can’t wait for Christmas (I mean this with all the sincerity I have).

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