A Christmas Tale (2008) Poster

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8/10
A fireworks of benevolence and happiness
FrenchEddieFelson19 May 2019
A plethora of awesome actors in perfect symbiosis, refined dialogues, a sense of humor very dark and even cynical, jubilant duels between brothers and sisters, a surrealistic conversation (a kind of 'I love you, neither do I') between a mother and her son, probabilistic calculations on life expectancy, ... It is a real delight but definitely not a Christmas tale. I loved this atypical, dysfunctional and weird family!
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10/10
A loving film about some unlovable people
Michael Fargo23 November 2008
It just doesn't get much better than this for fans of movie-making…or fans of music, art, literature, philosophy…even algebra? Arnaud Desplechin uses Robert Altman's impressionistic approach to film-making taking multiple characters, plots lines then adding Altman's playfulness with cinematic technique to dazzle the viewer with a rich mix of ideas and allusions. Watching, you just don't want it to end.

The actors here—as in Altman—take center stage. Catherine Deneuve is the reluctant matriarch of some pretty messed-up siblings. We aren't ever clued in on the exact details of the rifts and jealousies. We just recognize them from our own family experiences. During an introduction to the cast of characters at the beginning of the film, the death of a young infant early in the family's history suggests that interpersonal problems will result, but it can't be the sole reason for the pathologies represented. As in life, it's never a simple thing to find the "reason" for conflict, unhappiness or even joy. We simply have to accept it and make the best of the situations before us. And this film is a wonderful demonstration of making the best of a real mess.

There's not a weak link in the cast. And as the bizarre begin to assemble for a very strange Christmas homecoming the delight we feel for being onlookers instead of participants is palpable in the audience.

I should warn that this is not a film in the tradition of "Home Alone" or "A Christmas Story." You may wait a long time for the Baby Jesus to arrive here (as the children on the screen do). It's more a film about family life and the peculiar kind of fulfillment we get from the strife that results. As with the "ghost wolf" in this family's basement, we're haunted by the familiar and the strange: it's both fearful and thrilling to see. And that's a very admirable accomplishment for Arnaud Desplechin.
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8/10
Another brilliant French film
emeiserloh24 November 2008
This one, however, is not for everyone. Most people will probably not only have trouble with its length, but its style, as well. Both as wild as it is imaginative, this film is like a post-modern jazz score, mixing elements from a variety of cinematic styles that are jarring (at times), but always interesting to behold. And as long as the film is, it always keeps moving and changing before our very eyes. What makes its odd stylistic combinations work is the compelling depths of its explorations into family and the bonds the unite, or divide us. Like and The Royal Tennenbaums, with a nouvelle vague twist, the film is not only full of odd combinations of image and music, but seems to jump from one film to another from scene to scene, as if each character or emotional quality (from light comedy to serious drama) were each receiving its own rendering. At times, the characters turn and speak directly to the camera. The filmmaker also intercedes by providing chapter headings and keyhole views, but, somehow, what could have become a cacophony of chaos, turns into a wonderment of cinema that any real cinephile will be amazed to behold and want to experience again....
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9/10
very satisfying movie
WilliamCKH22 November 2008
I can't say I'm a huge fan of Arnaud Despleshin's films, but of all the ones I've seen, this is my favorite. The first few scenes of the movie, with its flashbacks and quick cuts seem disjointed at first, but it does really quickly pull you into the family situation. And when the family does finally arrive altogether at the Vuillard house, you almost feel as if you're one of the guests. All the actors are wonderful, but I must say that Amalric, who almost always plays this type of character in Despleshin films (Kings and Queen, My Sex Life, etc.) is terrific in this film. He's much more likable here. And Emmanuelle Devos has such presence in this movie that she steals pretty much every scene she's in. The rest of the cast, Deneuve, Rousillion and Cosigny are all terrific.

I love how the script deals with so many subjects, not only of the family history and Junon's need for a donor, but also touches on everything from mathematics to philosophy to literature, to all types of music, religion, and all geared towards how all these things enhance, and does not consume, the life of the family. It was very refreshing to see this family, although messed up in so many ways, to live free of convention, children curse, everyone's smoking and/or drinking, telling each other what they really feel and think and/or not feel and think. I also liked that the house felt like a house that people actually lived in.
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7/10
No Compelling Reason to Spend Time with This Particular Family
evanston_dad30 December 2009
An overly long and incredibly too talky dysfunctional family drama about a clan reuniting for one Christmas to see which if any family members will have bone marrow that's compatible with that of the matriarch, played by a chilly Catherine Deneuve. She's dying of a rare kind of cancer, and the spectre of that eventuality plus the proximity of brothers and sisters who haven't seen each other for a while and have scores to settle puts everyone in a reflective mood. Unfortunately for us, they stay in that mood for nearly three hours, and they talk and talk and talk endlessly about it.

There's far too much plot, some of it quite banal, some of it very interesting. The film is well executed and acted, but it's also distant and cold. I never felt vested in anything that happened to these people, and I greeted the ending with the curiosity of one who has spent a lot of time with something and simply wants to finish it rather than with any real concern for what the ending would be.

"A Christmas Tale" falls into the trap of too many family dysfunction dramas: We all have our own families to deal with in real life, so if we're going to spend 2-3 hours listening to the petty whining of someone else's, it better damn well be worth our time.

Grade: B
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3/10
Pretentious and empty of contents and ideas
anders-lundin26 December 2008
This film promised a lot, so many beautiful and well playing actors but with a plot that had virtually NOTHING to say. So many potentially promising conflicts between the family members that could have been developed and elaborated but it was all dropped and not taken care of. There was no story to be told, just a show off of acting, technique, beautiful scenes - that were all EMPTY. But again, the acting was excellent so many of the individual scenes were entertaining, but as you became increasingly aware of the lack of underpinning ideas, even the acting lost its sense. So from the promising start you became increasingly disappointed as the non-story went along.
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5/10
A jumbled mess of ennue
bobbobwhite26 December 2008
Started thinking about 20 minutes in, "when is it all going to come together with some semblance of cohesion and interest?" To me it never did, and was an overlong borefest throughout, with very short takes leading to other very short takes that never got my interest for any.

Never saw any family act the harsh way toward each other that this one did, or talk to each other so carelessly without more mayhem being caused by it than this one did, or showed less love and care for each family member than this one did, even with the mother dying!

Why was this kind of labored film supposed to be the right one to show at Christmas? Maybe Labor Day instead? I sure labored through it unwillingly, and it was sooooo long. And, I love French films! See Cache, For the Love of Others or Amelie instead for great French films, and not this piece of pretty junk.
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1/10
utter merde
winkiecat19 December 2008
Tedium as only the French can do it. I checked my watch for the first time 7 minutes in, and with 143 minutes left, I also considered walking out. I won't even try to discuss the incoherence of the "plot" or the inability of the characters to be personable because at about 1 hour in, I realized none of this mattered. It was not merely self-indulgent or pretentious, it was a vacuum. A soul-sucking vacuum. This film has no saving grace, no enjoyable character, nothing funny, and nothing sad. It isn't smart enough to be drama and there's no moment that's in the slightest bit farcical. The most intriguing thing about this movie is how it has managed to get mostly glowing and positive reviews. I was tricked by those reviews, but you don't have to be, gentle reader. All I want for Christmas is my three hours back.
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7/10
a big book of a film, with some invention and strong acting, that is too long
Quinoa198425 November 2008
I got to hand it to the filmmaker, Arnaud Desplechin, at least on one significant point: A Christmas Tale is like a big book faithfully adapted to the screen, only in this case non-existent, and it has that wonderful if imperfect feeling of surrounding oneself with the world and atmosphere and attitudes of a family where the dysfunction runs deep and clear, emphasizing Tolstoy's classic "no one unhappy family is the same" credo. His film is also sometimes a big melodrama, folded around a cancer story not unlike a more serious (yet sometimes lighter version of) The Royal Tenenbaums, and centered so firmly around the family during that crazy but loving-despite-everything time of Christmas you'd swear Desplechin watched the first hour of Fanny & Alexander too many times to count.

At the same time A Christmas Tale in very much a French film, is attitude and approach to narrative and occasionally nearing that dreaded P-word (pretentious) in being 2 1/2 hours of incidents and confrontations and little details and twists. A lot happens with the Vuillard family over a few days, but in it uncovers a whole can of worms involving a banished son (Mathieu Amalric, who thankfully is maybe the centerpiece of the ensemble in terms of being the black sheep like Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married), a depressed daughter (Anne Consigny who, despite being effective in a one-note performance, is also so shrill and cold as a character it's hard to feel anything for her, at all, despite her plight of losing her older brother as a child), and a cousin who has loved his cousin's wife ever since he got him, Ivan, the youngest Vuillard brother, to hook up with her so many years ago. Meanwhile, the mother (Catherine Deneuve, who may not exactly be a great actress but is the greatest living female French star which carries a lot of weight as a true beauty), has cancer, possibly terminal, unless a donor comes forward.

So there's a lot here to work with - maybe, perhaps, arguably too much, though it's almost a credit to the director that I can't say exactly what (little things, for example, like the Christmas Eve sex scene are deliberately paced but for good reason), and he laces everything with a curious jazz score throughout, sometimes to great effect and sometimes not. But, at the least, it's wonderful to see so many good actors in one place, particularly Amalric who is quickly becoming a truly fantastic talent with a lot of range in the work I've seen him in- one day he's a subdued intelligence man in Munich, next he's paralyzed except for one eye-blinking in Diving Bell, and even a 007 villain- and here goes further in a scene stealing performance (one such scene is his toast at the Christmas dinner, a scene actually shocking and hilarious and sad all in a thirty-second split).

He and Deneuve and the underrated Jean-Paul Roussillon as the husband of Junon almost make me want to rate the movie higher. But alas, it is what it is: a very strong take on a familiar subject - crazy and light and dark and tragic and unnerving times with a family at Christmas - and standing it on its head, while also the things I mention above. Did I mention it's French? 7.5/10
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2/10
Incoherent and interminable!
xoxoamore10 October 2008
What a waste of great acting talent. This is a shame because with Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Chiara Mastroianni, and Melvil Poupaud (not to mention others less well known in America) that's a lot of acting talent to waste. This film by Arnaud Desplech was a terrible disappointment. After having enjoyed his "Kings and Queens" and this film left me completely bored and frustrated to the point where I actually left before the movie ended. The movie wandered around its central storyline (involving Catherine Deneuve's illness) getting sidetracked by every peripheral storyline and supporting character that appeared on screen. The movie also gave us too little character development to understand why the different characters disliked each other so much (this was a story of family dysfunction) so that the dearth of coherent narrative became even more critical. Finally, the soundtrack (which ranged from hip hop to Bach to Mendelhson's Midsummer Night's Dream) was at odds with the emotional temperature of the movie and further obscured any emotion the viewer should have been feeling at the time. The photography (the director often began scenes with a mainly dark screen, where our only sight is through a small opening, making feel as if we are watching through a peephole, that then expands) was also pretentious and inscrutable.
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Top-notch ensemble performance
harry_tk_yung12 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
When I watched director Arnaud Desplechin's "Kings and queen", I was most impressed by the richness of its contents. "A Christmas tale" is also rich in contents but in a different way. Rather than multiple plot lines, the story evolves around a simple family reunion at Christmas. As the film unfolds, what starts as a blur comprising a group of strangers (to the audience) gradually develops outlines and shapes until at the end, what has been revealed in relationships and human nature is no less complex than in "Kings and queen". Instrumental to this marvellous cinematic experience is an ensemble of top-notch actors, with top-notch performances.

Catherine Deneuve plays Junon, the pivotal point of this ordinary dysfunctional (no oxymoron intended) family, a woman who years ago lost his 6-year-old son Joseph to a rare genetic ailment. After several decades, she now falls victim to the same disease, and has less than six months to live unless she gets a bone marrow transplant from a family member. One of the purposes of the reunion is to find such a donor. It turns out that only two are compatible. Junon, however, faces her predicament with calm stoicism and isn't even sure if she wants the treatment.

Jean-Paul Roussillon won a Caesar for Best Supporting by playing Abel, her supportive and understanding husband. He is also a firm rock and a safe harbour for family members (four children, their spouses and offspring) who are emotionally troubled.

The two older children, Elizabeth and Henri, had hated each other since childhood, partly because neither was compatible with Joseph to provide bone marrow transplant to save their dying brother. Their respective characters also flamed the antagonism. Elizabeth, played by Anne Consigny is serious and multi-talented. Henri, played by Mathieu Amalric, is the black sheep of the family, always obnoxious, a drifter and a womanizer. But it turns out that Henri is one of the only two compatible family members for the transplant. The other is Elizabeth's teenage son, Paul (played by Emile Berling), an introvert, sensitive young man and a schizophrenia patient.

Abel and Junon's other two surviving children are boys. Laurent Capelluto plays Simon, taciturn, reasonably well liked but undistinguished and still single. While Junon likes Henri least (not surprisingly), the apple of her eyes is the youngest son Ivan, played by Melvil Poupaud, handsome, fun-filled, happily married to beautiful wife Sylvia, with two lively little boys (played by Thomas Obled and Clement Obled). Sylvia, played by Chiara Mastroianni, then stumbles across a little secret that the two brothers had both been in love with her, and agreed between themselves that Ivan was to go ahead. While this does not change anything, Sylvia will now always wonder why is it that her life had to be decided for her, and how it would have been if she were allow to make a free choice. Her relationship with Simon takes a subtle change.

Contributing to the complex world of emotions and nuances is Henri's latest girlfriend Faunia, played by Emmanuelle Devos. As she is Jewish, she has never intended to spend Christmas with the family. But while initially reluctant, she ends up spending two days there before leaving on Christmas Eve to join her own folks. What's more, Faunia's open and honest personality brings a measure of healthy impact to his troubled family, particularly, Junon. Completing the ensemble is Elizabeth's husband Claude (Hippolyte Girardot) and another guest, an elderly lady who is an old family friend (Francois Bertin).

From the above summary, it can be easily surmised how immense the dramatic opportunities could be. This potential is fully realized by an excellent director and an impeccable cast. The only other thing I would add is that the entire tone of this film is cheerful, emotional moments notwithstanding.
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9/10
Family affairs?
postcefalu15 August 2008
After his impressing "Kings and queen" in 2004, Arnaud Desplechin proves that he's the best director come out from France in the last two decades with this exhilarating, moving, awfully brilliant "A Christmas tale". Following the path of its previous feature, the movie mixtures very hard scenes of desperation and hatred feelings with moments of absurd joy in an structure full of elliptical jumps from the past to the present and back again to the memories of another time. There's nothing new in his cinema and this is perhaps the only problem, that everything is well known yet; this is the first time that happens and today i think i have enjoyed very much the film but maybe it's time to spin around again and cut across another new ground. Desplechin knows the way.
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8/10
Funny and disturbing
stensson27 December 2008
This is an extremely dysfunctional family. Everybody seems to be aware of their part in it and don't really care.

The great engine is the alcoholic son, who provokes everyone. One tool is the fact that his mother's got cancer and he and his nephew are the only one who can save her. The alcoholic uses it for attacks on the family and not at least the mother. And the characters are forced to develop, not necessarily for the better.

The humor keeps you interested in this chamber play and the 145 minutes never feel long. A quite French movie, but fully appreciable for all of us. A Christmas tale which is both dark and light.
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1/10
I walked out...
fonzactim1 January 2009
I can't remember the last time a movie was so boring that I walked out. The Weatherman and The Island were both so bad that I thought about it but I even stayed to the end in those. This movie was incomprehensible, not funny and just went on and on and on. Like some other commentators, I wondered if parts were just French humor that I didn't get or if the characters were serious. I finally just gave up and tried napping because I didn't want to disturb my husband if he was enjoying it but he noticed and let me know that it was OKAY if I wanted to leave and out the door we went. He would like to know how it ended...if Denevue lived or died etc...(I don't even care).
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9/10
A wonderful film
dbborroughs27 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
After matriarch Junon is diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness her family comes together at Christmas in the hopes of putting things right.

I've explained that badly, which is fine since I doubt there is any way I can truly do justice to this wonderful film about families, how they make us crazy, how they help us along and how life kind of gets in the way. I loved the way that about a half hour into the film I knew I was going to have to watch this again because I was simply enjoying it so much. Never mind that the film has a great deal going on that I simply didn't catch (Thank you IFC in Theaters on Demand for making it possible to do so with out breaking the bank). This is a magical movie its worth the effort to see.

I have to say I love that Catherine Deneuve, a babe if there ever was (and is one) is married to Jean-Paul Roussillon, a small squat almost troll like man. You watch the two together and there is such love and ease and magic between them that the pairing is utterly perfect. Their pairing makes absolute sense, more than most romantic pairing that the movies have ever shown us. Its brilliant, and its just a small element of a film that gets adults and families right. To be certain its idealized in many ways but the film still feels wonderfully real.

Its just a great film from top to bottom, with a great script, a great look (and sound) and a cast that is as good as it gets.

See this film, it's one of the better films of the years and I can't stop talking about it.
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7/10
Cruel Yule
writers_reign28 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Clearly in one respect at least a disciple of Jacques Rivette, Arnaud Desplechin doesn't do brief. Presumably he sees anything under two hours as a one-reeler and tends to deliver around two and a half hours as a mean average. He also has a tendency to use actors over and over - for example Manu Devos, Mathieu Amlaric and Catherine Deneuve all appeared in Kings and Queen, albeit Deneuve was little more than a cameo there whilst she here she gets centre stage as the matriarch of a dysfunctional family that makes Gene O'Neill's haunted Tyrones look like the Waltons. Whatever you may think of the plot and length you can't fault the acting and Anne Consigny is especially effective as the elder sister metaphorically wearing Masha Black in mourning for her life. It's a great big roller-coaster ride of a movie and ultimately rewarding.
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10/10
How we would like women to be
hasosch8 December 2009
When the Vuillard family comes back from church, on Christmas eve's day, they suddenly realize that Simon the painter is missing. Father Vuillard suggests that his children go to search him, because he has an inclination to drink and gets easily into fights. Since Ivan's wife does not want to go, his former lover Elizabeth goes. Driven by a woman's infallible instinct, she finds Simon immediately in one of those rare bars that are open at that time in Paris, the owner and the guests being mainly Muslims for whom there is no reason to close up during the Christian holidays. And now there comes one of the most wonderful scenes between man and woman in the history of movies: He has already "piccolé" as the French say (is pretty intoxicated) when Elizabeth sits to him at the bar. Simon is just going to order another beer with "side-kick" (probably Wodka), and Elisabeth says first: Do you not think you had already enough for today? - He answers: This is none of your business. There she responds: Well, I am feeling in the same mood as you do and therefore drink the same as you drink. So, there are sitting until almost 4 o' clock in the morning in the little bar and are drinking beer and Wodka, having wonderful discussions because soon, they are on the same "level", and, on top of all, they are even going to get reconciled letting passing revue what went wrong in their common past, and we hear out of Simon's, and soon also out of Elisabeth's mouth some of the most astonishing confessions that they would probably never have been able to utter in any other environment (there is a joke in French between "s'enivrer" = getting drunk and "environment").

In Douglas Sirk's "Written on the wind", there is a similar scene between Robert Stack and Lauren Bacall. Robert escapes a family ceremony and goes boozing in his favorite restaurant, Lauren follows him. But unlike the scene in Desplechin's movie, the confrontation between the two marks only the definite end in their mutual understanding. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, in a book-fragment on Sirk's work, wrote: "Robert starts again to drink. Now, it shows that Lauren Bacall has no solutions for her husband. Instead of going to booze together with him, instead of trying to understand some bits of his grief, she gets more and more pure and causes one more and more to throw up" (translated by the present author from: R.W. Fassbinder, Filme Befreien Den Kopf. Frankfurt am Main 1984, p. 16).

Another wonderful example of women-power happens between Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos) and Henry (Mathieu Amalric) who plays her lover. Henry, being a drinker, lets himself provoke to analyze the miserable situation of their dysfunctional family in an extremely theatric way attacking directly the husband of one of his sisters who sits besides him. After he is knocked down by this husband and lies on the soil, Faunia seems to be amused by not startled at all about this situation. When he gets on his feet again he throws her his car-keys on the table and says that she has come in the wrong moment to meet his family and that he wants her to "scram". But she sets up one of her absolutely disarming smiles, shoots him with a short but highly intellectual comment and asks him if this would not be nice of him to bring her now a coffee. Henry's face looks like a tank was driven over it.

Arnaud Desplechin's movies are as far away from everything that is produced by or imitated from Hollywood as they can be. They are symphonies of style where the rhythm seems to tell the different interwoven stories rather than they are connected by an inner succession. This film consists practically exclusively of a super-all-star cast of the most famous still living French actors. A true highlight.
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10/10
James Joyce Meets Antonin Chekov
Seamus28291 January 2009
'Un Conte 'de Noel',or as it's being distributed in the U.S.A. as 'A Christmas Tale' is a very well written,directed & acted out drama, with some minor touches of comedy,but is NOT a all out comedy as it is being touted in the somewhat misleading trailer for the film. It is a tale of a highly dysfunctional French upper middle class family with enough head cases to keep any psychologist/analyst rolling in Euros for a life time. The cast is headed by a radiant Catherine Denuve (as usual)as the head of the household,who has just found out she has a potentially fatal form of bone cancer,and only a bone marrow transplant from a family member may be the only saving grace for her. The only problem: most of her children royally hate one another. The possibilities for a family reunion at Christmas only makes for a possible meltdown. The screenplay may remind one of elements of James Joyce,as well as Antonin Chekov (especially the use of metaphors,such as the occasional use of traditional Irish music on the soundtrack,as well as one of the characters who is ironically named Ivan. The film's rather long running time (two & a half hours)may remind one of certain stage plays by Irish playwright,Brian Freil (but there isn't a slack moment in the entire film---at least I didn't think so). This is a smart,cutting film that is worth seeking out. As this is an import,and is being carried by a small,independent distributor,there is no MPAA rating, but would fare little more than an PG-13 for a bit of raunchy language,some adult situations & a rather uncomfortable scene in a hospital,involving a bone marrow transplant. You may want to think twice about bringing young children (who would probably be bored with reading English subtitles,anyway)
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1/10
Waste of time
onutsa9322 December 2018
The most boring and empty movie I have ever tried to see. It took me minutes in 4 days to finish it. No ending, no philosophy, no deep moments, nothing. Truly the worst movie, French movie I had to see.
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9/10
A painter with a feel for tits and ass is a saved man.
lastliberal8 December 2009
The film deals with death, but not in a morbid way. One of the queerest scenes involved Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), Junon Vuillard's (Catherine Deneuve) husband, and Claude (Hippolyte Girardot), working the statistical chances of survival and the time left if Junon chose to have or not have a bone marrow transplant for her cancer. This is not something I could ever imagine happening anywhere else.

Junon was so cool about the whole thing that you never really thought about the fact that she was dying.

The entire family, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, girlfriends, and others arrive at the family house to celebrate Christmas, each with their own funny and not-so-funny issues.

The main issue working throughout the entire film is between brother and sister, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) and Elizabeth (Anne Consigny). Both actors were brilliant, and I am still not totally sure of the issues.

There were other issues going on, and they are way too numerous to mention. The film deals with family and repentance, and forgiveness, among other issues.

Arnaud Desplechin works like no other director I have seen and, while it may be distracting at times, it is never boring. The two and a half hours fly by.

The children's Christmas play was hilarious, and dealt with the same themes.

This was definitely one of the best films of 2008.
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8/10
What a Sad Bunch!
Hitchcoc5 January 2011
I thought that this was a tight film, with fine performances. The fact that I couldn't stand any of the self-righteous jerks that permeate it didn't really distract from it. I learned a long time ago that films can have weak and even evil figures who are still really interesting. This family has done so much harm to its members that nothing is really going to repair it. The figure we care the most about has a death sentence She sets things in motion, but has no motivation other than that. The dysfunctional bunch clashes and bumps and sobs and carries on and the chips are still falling. The free spirit who has been thrown out of the family, basically, is the one who manages to eventually leave unscathed, but how he gets there is through his own general disinterest and insensitivity. Yet we do admire his spirit. The fact that it is Christmas does nothing other than force people together. See this if you don't mind feeling kind of bad afterward.
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1/10
Two and a half hours of tedious gloom à la française
Thomas_S5 January 2017
Two and a half hours of overlong, dragged-out, tedious misery and gloom from start to finish in a dysfunctional neurotic family where nearly everybody hates nearly everybody else and too many try to drown their sorrow in alcohol and tobacco.

It is because of pseudo-intellectual artsy-fartsy films like this many say that life is too short for French films. There are many good French films; this is just not one of them.

To add to the misery, the film has been shot in one of the most grey, boring, depressing and uninteresting parts of France, so there is no beautiful scenery to lift it up, and nothing else saves it from total gloom.

Not one character is likable, and after thirty minutes, one no longer cares whatever happens to them.

This is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. The gloom just happens to be set over the holiday period for the purpose of having the entire family together so their mutual rejection can be spelt out.

If you don't like this after the first fifteen minutes, you can just as well stop it. It doesn't get any better.

On the other hand, if you appreciate sad films where nothing really happens, except for each family member's psychological trauma interacting with the others', then you may well use this review to conclude that here is something for your taste.
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10/10
Obnoxious in the most likable way
aFrenchparadox22 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The problem with Desplechin's films is also what makes me love them, i.e. their mental-ness. I mean it's so mental that you sometimes doubt such messed-up families can exist. Cold mother who has never really loved any of her children, except maybe the dead one (and would she have loved him if he had lived?). Absolutely neurotic daughter who made her family banish her brother but never seems to wonder if maybe she messed up her own son's education. Obnoxious banned brother who enjoys to be able to save her mother to regain power over his sister and his mother. Obnoxious but so relevant sometimes. The youngest one and the cousin are less mental, it's true. Except for the fact that, younger, they decided between them and the obnoxious brother who should have the girl who would become the youngest one's wife. And the father who just does nothing but watching his family fighting without reacting. I am really not sure we could find a family so dysfunctioning. There is obviously real worse families but they just fall apart and don't stick together. This one is actually functioning by dysfunctioning. Anyway, all this obnoxiousness is jubilation material if you enjoy irreverence and boldness. And is played by a wonderful Catherine Deneuve and a never disappointing (except in James Bond) Mathieu Amalric. Emmanuelle Devos makes a short apparition which is of her usual talent, too. Some usual Desplechin hence, quite addressed to a particular type of people, quite snob, maybe elitist, but so amusing.
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7/10
Enigmatic but...
Blade_Le_Flambeur2 January 2010
A Christmas Tale has been booked as an extremely unconventional holiday film from most major reviewers. This is a selling point-the film is a "true" examination of the holidays that offers no traditional entry and exit. It's the direct contrast of Four Christmases and at least one reviewer pondered "If only American Christmas films could be like this one..." Certainly, A Christmas Tale is unconventional, using Wes Anderson-like bookmark introductions as an omniscient narrator dictates the various children's upbringing. Scenes suddenly cut off in the middle or change. Things are never really explained. Two characters have a major feud between them but the origins are never quite described.

This lack of knowledge and unpredictability gives A Christmas Tale an almost luminous ambiance. The film doesn't really move forward so much as float. Characters self-consciously talk about their own trappings in a theatrical way or muse about an event the audience was never privy too. It feels like the viewer is spying on this family, not in a Hitchcockian sense, but more as a privileged member. And although all of these distinctive attributes distinguish the film from more generic fare, it doesn't honestly add much. There is little emotional investment in the characters or their struggles, even though so much of the film depends on a sympathetic audience. The happy moments or the sad ones seem to do little to really effect anyone because such little is known about these people. The film feels airy and faint but it only lessens the impact.

One wonders why this approach was chosen. Perhaps to get the audience to feel instead of think. It doesn't seem like A Christmas Tale really wants to offer something different, as primed by others. Instead the filmmakers simply want to tell a story that transports the audience to France. They want the viewer to invest in these characters struggles and feel for them. But the film is loaded with such sudden and copious amounts of joy and the usual suspects- a scruffy but loving husband, a stern but fair mother, the black sheep who doesn't understand, the loving husband who doesn't complain, the adolescent child who is trying to find his place... the list goes on. But what's the significance? Where's the punch? What's the so what?

It's difficult to recommend this film even though the rating may not seem terrible. "Worth watching" is difficult to categorize in this place because the film feels like a continuation of this director's style but I know very little about his prior works. Check it out but don't expect much and you may be pleasantly surprised.
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9/10
Unresolved Issues
sergepesic29 September 2013
Big, comfortable house in the provincial French town, white Christmas, family get-together. But, Vuillards are not an ordinary family. The iron willed mother is fighting cancer, but this is not a sentimental story. Bottled up emotions, seething resentments, unresolved issues. And it all explodes in three turbulent days. Cold mother, dotting father that keeps everything together, and four kids, ever present long gone Joseph(died of cancer as a child), Elizabeth( successful playwright, but deeply unhappy), Paul (the proverbial black sheep ,drinks too much to want to control himself), and the youngest Ivan, (handsome, but timid with the history of mental troubles). And there they go, with rituals, carols, Christmas movies, and rivers of booze, never really connecting. And in all of this lunacy there is an undertone of devotion and twisted loyalty. The ever so familiar story of families. The crippling inability to escape where it all started, the place that made us, the people who know us and can't be deceived. So, we come back drawn by the magnet of family bliss, only to be quickly reminded why we left in a first place. Smart, beautiful movie for patient movie lovers.
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