A Christmas Tale (2008)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Ensemble Film, Family Drama, Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 14, 2008 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 152 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Leave it to the French to make a movie called A Christmas Tale that has little to do with Christmas. Don't take that as a criticism. A Christmas Tale is an intimate, involving, well-acted story about a dysfunctional family rallying around the illness of its matriarch, but anyone who watches it for some light holiday cheer -- mistaking it for either A Christmas Carol or A Christmas Story -- will be sorely disappointed. Arnaud Desplechin's film is most reminiscent of Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as both films feature Mathieu Amalric and Anne Consigny, and both consider the strain on family in times of medical crisis. Desplechin's script, which he co-wrote with Emmanuel Bourdieu, allows ample time (150 minutes) to explore this strain, consisting of a succession of talking-head scenes that draw out the nuances in these characters' relationships. Again, not a criticism. Desplechin recognizes that family drama carries more weight when the audience has an emotional investment in the characters, so what might seem like flab in a Hollywood film instead provides useful texture as the story builds toward its climax. Catherine Deneuve does her usual fine work as the matriarch -- a victim of her illness, but hardly innocent. The standouts, however, are Amalric and Consigny, as the siblings whose deep wounds have festered to the point of mutual disassociation. Amalric, who had to act with one eye in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is equally memorable given free reign of his emotions, playing the family's black sheep, while Consigny projects a lacerating coldness that makes the moral high ground seem just as unforgivable. Desplechin contributes a wonderful visual playfulness, using puppets, for example, to cover the narrative exposition of the family's history. A Christmas Tale is quite a gift, whether received in December or otherwise.