Movie #101 A Christmas Tale
(2008, France, d. Arnaud Desplechin)
A Christmas Tale is a lingering and affecting melodrama that lasts with you long after the closing credits. I watched this movie on Christmas Eve, expecting both comedy and drama from the film, though it’s mostly the latter. It’s a sad, sad tale about a family that has lost the ability to love after the death of their oldest son years before. What we are watching is not the climax or resolution of that story; it is just a depiction of the effects of that loss. Smartly enough, the film barely mentions the child who passed away. The cast is large and everyone in the family decides to spend Christmas together after discovering their matriarch of the family has leukemia. And as I mentioned before, rather than solving the problems that have been poisoning everyone in the family, Desplechin just lets the audience know that these are the problems, and occasionally he will highlight that to a few of the characters. Every character (a credit to the writing) has a very complex and unique relationship with the next and no action is made in the film that does not have varying repercussions. By far, though, the most interesting relationship was between siblings Henri (played by Mathieu Amalric) and Elizabeth (played by Anne Consigny). Elizabeth possesses nothing but pure hatred for Henri, for no apparent reason, although Elizabeth constantly alludes to something that may have happened in the past. Henri claims to not know what he could have done. The “resolution” to that mystery (or lack of), in my opinion, was one the most unsettlingly touching moment in the film. Apart from that, from a filmmaking standpoint, I really appreciated the blending of styles that this film took, an obvious borrowing from early French New Wave cinema. It contained bits of documentary form, comedy, high stylization, minimalist form, and melodrama. Perhaps this was done to create a jarring effect so as to distance the audience from the characters we were watching and thereby judge them objectively. Though I don’t think that was too effective since by the time the film was over, I was very moved.