On the Tenth Day of Christmas… “A Christmas Tale”

[…Day 10 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu
Producers: Pascal Caucheteux
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 150 min
Year of Release: France

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I left the theater in the middle of this screening with an hour left to go in the theater. So this post isn’t really a review, but more of an op/ed piece. If you’d like a full review, you can check out Marina’s review (of which I totally agree for what I saw). Me leaving the theater wasn’t entirely the fault of the film itself. In fact, I was sort of starting to get into the spirit of things by the time I decided it was time to leave. Normally I’d never review a film without seeing the entire thing (hence, this is an op/ed and NOT a review), but I’ve recently been convinced by certain readers of this site that leaving a movie in the middle says just as much about a film than seeing the whole thing through. But again, giving the film poor marks because I left the screening early isn’t really fair as there were extenuating circumstances to my abandoning.

Interesting enough, this movie reminded me very much of my favorite movie of the year (so far), Rachel Getting Married. An entire family is getting together for a significant event (in this case Christmas) while no one is looking forward to the black sheep of the family (Henri) to arrive. This black sheep is played by Mathieu Amalric (Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) who has been banished from his family for basically being a jack-ass. As part of a court order, in which Henri receives a lot of money from his sister, he must not have any contact with her (no phone calls, no letters, no family gatherings, no holiday events; nothing). But five years down the road, the mother develops a sort of cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant. Since she has a very rare blood type, it turns out that Henri is the only one who is compatible to donate for her. So he is invited to spend Christmas with the family and… get ready to donate I guess?

So here’s the thing: it had been a long day. I was tired, I was hungry and after 2 hours, this movie really hadn’t gone anywhere. While I compare it to Rachel Getting Married in a superficial way, it isn’t one tenth as compelling or interesting. None of the characters (aside from Henri) have much emotion or energy. It’s like they are completely removed from the rest of the movie. There are pockets of interest here and there, but they never seem to lead to anything that will advance the storyline or compel the audience in any sort of captivating way.

After looking at my watch and realizing that there was still an hour to go, both my sister and I decided that the movie isn’t all that bad, but we just had better things to do since we weren’t all that interested. Luckily, our sponsor had already paid our admission. Had I actually paid the ten bucks for the film, I likely would’ve gutted it out and stuck with it. I’m sure that a little bit more drama and intrigue would’ve ensued. But from what I saw, there wasn’t anything interesting about any (again, except Henri) of the characters, the dialogue was boring and the mood wasn’t even all that concrete. Was I supposed to be laughing or was I supposed to feel touched? In either case, I don’t think the intent was for me to feel as indifferent as I did.

My intent here isn’t to bash the movie. My point is just that the movie doesn’t hold enough interest for a tired, hungry male aged 33 at 8:00 pm on a Sunday night for nearly three hours of which I have to read subtitles. I think this may be the first film that I’ve ever walked out of before. And again to be clear, I wasn’t angry, offended or even bored. I just wasn’t into it and all I could think about was how I wish I was down the hall with all the mesmerized people experiencing Rachel Getting Married. Hence, no star rating for this one as that just wouldn’t be fair.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Marina Antunes

The thing I didn't like about this film is how mean it is. I understand that families can usually be meaner than strangers and that we were looking into the inner workings but I just didn't care for any of the characters (outside of Henri – and I have a feeling that was mostly due to Amalric). I may revisit this at some point on DVD to see if maybe a different state of mind will make a difference.

Peter Nellhaus

Hopefully you can see this film in full. I thought it was good, but not great. Much shorter, with the same title (in Spanish), is this holiday horror film you might enjoy.

Kurt Halfyard

The film Peter points out is directed by one of the [REC] directors. Christmas horror flicks usually make me smile. Christmas family films, not so much. I do recall this film getting mixed buzz out of TIFF, some loved it, others not so much.