Wednesday, October 22, 2008

London Film Festival Catch-Up - A CHRISTMAS TALE / UN CONTE DE NOEL

UN CONTE DE NOEL is writer-director Arnaud Desplechins's attempt to create a French family drama that's half way between Bergman and Wes Anderson. Sadly, it contains neither the insight of the former nor the visual with of the latter. Rather, it's a loose, rambling, two and a half hour marathon of neuroses, narcissim and general nastiness, leavened by the occasional flash of physical humour.

Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Roussillon play Junon and Abel - the heads of the dysfunctional Vuillard family, reunited at Christmas. The family is under pressure to find a suitable donor to save Junon's life. The family is also under pressure because the black sheep of the family, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) is returning for the first time in five years, having been banished by his ice-cold sister, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny). Added to this mix, we have a nephew who is having a nervous breakdown; a cousin (Laurent Capelluto) who is in love with younger brother's wife (Chiara Mastroianni) ;and faintly concealed anti-semitism when Henri shows up with his Jewish girlfriend Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos).

From all this follows a tale of over-drinking, physical fights, bitchy comments and randomly callous acts interspersed with moments of authentically captured family intimacy and absurdity. A small mystery is created out of the reason for which Elizabeth banished Henri from the family but it isn't resolved in the movie (although a Q&A intro with the director revealed the reason).

UN CONTE DE NOEL contains flashes of brilliance, mostly involving Mathieu Amalric's performance as Henri. But frankly, it's just not worth through sitting through. If you want to watch Bergman or Anderson, watch Bergman or Anderson. This film adds nothing new.

A CHRISTMAS TALE played Cannes, Toronto and London 2008. It opened earlier this year in France and Belgium. It opens on November 28th in Finland; on December 3rd in Canada; on December 26th in Norway and on January 2nd in Italy.

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