A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin) 2008

This movie took over a month to finally get through.  I had to buckle down and watch this in like 20 minute segments at a time.  Now this movie is actually a critical darling but this was a torturous slog.  Why?

Let me tell you of the plot points we are given in the first 10 minutes alone.  A couple loses a son to leukemia, another son becomes a criminal/alcoholic/all around fuckup, their daughter loathes the fuckup son causing a schism in the family, another child attempts suicide, and the mother finally gets a disease which will result ultimately in her boiling away from the inside a slow and painful death.  Add in some Holocaust footage and you have…well you have The Day the Clown Cried.

Anyway the mother needs a bone marrow transplant and this prompts the whole family to finally come together again for Christmas.  I know there are supposed to be some lighthearted moments interspersed with heartfelt scenes of family coming together and blah blah blah but I just felt jerked around by this movie.  As I said before, all those plot points literally come in the first 10 minutes and that is not the end of the emotional manipulation at hand here.  There are additional subplots involving a love triangle.  You see, one of the sons had a guy and a girl friend.  The guy friend (even though he was in love with the girl) let the son date the girl because he was unhappy and now they are married and the girl feels cheated out of a choice now because she really loves the guy friend and *head explodes*

You know what this movie is like?  Its like asking a friend “How’s it going?” and having them reply “Well, I’ve got a bit of trouble with the family.  My brother came in from Wyoming and he’s staying at my house cause he’s too much of a cheapskate to spring for a hotel and his wife is an absolute bore and I’m also having some digestion issues.  I have had diarrhea the past few days…”  There is creating complex characters, and then there is dumping a pallet load of exposition in your lap.  There are so many goddamn characters and so much family squabbling bullshit I could really care less.  Oh, oh please give me more bitter arguments with uncomfortable moments.  No, not enough; someone blurt out a rape story.  Ok, we don’t go THAT far but you get the point.

Again this all feels manipulative and not natural at all.  What is truly odd is that the movie wants to have its moments of hilarity but at the same time have this overall tone of ennui and depression and angst.  They all but quote Jean Paul Sartre in explaining their existential crises.  And it doesn’t help that (at least in my opinion) nothing is really resolved or settled.  Yeah, they get along somewhat for Christmas and I suppose you could say its a starting point for a renewed relationship with the family.  I however still envision the daughter hating the fuckup son, the suicidal kid will most likely relapse, and so on.  I realize not everything can be settled and done with in a short amount of time, but still there wasn’t enough change to really think they are going in a positive direction.

I will say if I loved one thing about the movie it is Mathieu Amalric as the drunk son.  I had only seen him before in Quantum of Solace but here he is really good as his character is probably the most well rounded of the bunch.  Yes he had his issues in the past but is seemingly moving on with a very supportive girlfriend who seems to be pushing him in the right direction.  He takes the most initiative in confronting family and changing relationships instead of everyone else who is obstinate and too stuck up in their selfish bullshit to see past their own ego.  Everyone else seems to be caught up in a bit of attention whoring for who has the most painful and F’d up life while Henri tries to make the best of a crappy situation.

Maybe I just don’t get.  I will be the first to admit I have misread movies before: come in with expectations of one thing and got something completely different.  I can also just not get what the director was going for or just not get that subtle French humor.  But at least this time through, this movie was a painful 2 and a half hour marathon of family guilt and endless bickering.  Bah humbug.


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