Un Conte de NoŽl (A Christmas Tale) Reviews

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½ December 26, 2013
Today is Christmas Day, so it is the most apposite time to watch this French drama, rife with cancer, marrow transplant, siblings rivalry, unstable mentality, chronic depression, familial incest and distant mother-child relationship, very Christmasy!

A follow-up of KINGS & QUEEN (2004, 6/10), French art house director Arnaud Desplechin concocts a fine potpourri of familial entanglements around the bourgeois Vuillard family, opens with a consequential animated preamble of the loss of their eldest son Joseph at the age of 6 due to a hereditary blood disease while no compatible marrow transplant is found in both parents, the daughter Elizabeth (Consigny) and the second son Henri (Amalric), who is conceived to offer a cure to his elder brother. But time goes on, a third son Ivan (Poupaud) is born, and now they are all grown-ups, then the matriarch Junon (Denueve) discovers that she suffers from the same disease, the only compatible donors are Henri and Elizabeth's son Paul (Berling), hence this Christmas, a family reunion is endowed with a more grave determinant, especially for the black sheep in the family Henri, after a 6-year banishment (due to an unspecified riff with Elizabeth), his return with his new Jewish girlfriend Faunia (Devos) will undoubtedly thrust the tension with Elizabeth's family and have an impact on Junon's final resolve to her impending treatment.

Screen time is almost equally allotted to the all-star cast with their own stories intermingle in a short span of the timeline, although the main stream focuses on Henri and Junon's reconciliation, but it is not a beatific movie to bury the hatchet and embrace a pristine future, every family has its distinctive script written with plenitude of relatable interactions, notably, the mutual attraction between Ivan's wife Sylvia (played by Chiara Mastroianni, Denueve's real life daughter with Marcello Mastroianni) and Ivan's cousin Simon (Capelluto) clicks wonderfully in the latter part of the film, it is very French as well, for moralistic puritans and prudes, it is a sheer crevice in their convictions which will prompt harsh opprobrium.

One trait of superfluity is the chunk of monologues, colloquies with staccato coherence, loose ends are all over the place, we can never decipher the real motivations and reasons behind certain behaviors which adhere to a particular terrain of mores; also the peephole shots introduces each chapter gives the film a stage structure and the occasional talk-to-the-camera shtick often comes out of nowhere, they may variegate the viewers' recipiency but are inconsistent in the plot development and engender some distractions hinder the appreciation.

Amalric and Mastroianni are my pick among the ensemble, he is a true thespian with utter devotion while she bears her father's resemblance and an arresting existence whenever she is on screen. Devos is enjoyable as an unobtrusive intruder (reminds me to watch an Angela Basset film), Denueve is as distant as always, graceful but stereotyped, Poupaud is too damn good-looking for his shyness and benevolence and Consigny is perpetually frowned and distressed, enclosed in her own little world, one might feel too depressed to invest in her.

In conclusion, it is not your average Christmas flick, but a less chic showpiece about kindred liaisons than Assayas' SUMMER HOURS (2008, 8/10).
December 12, 2013
I can't give this film a 10/10, but it is overall enjoyable, and it is also quite fun to watch.
May 29, 2009
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
In this dark comedy everyone is at the end of someone else's strings.
½ September 14, 2013
Ranskalaista ja pitkšveteistš.
September 8, 2013
A French, slightly less intriguing Royal Tenenbaums.
½ January 6, 2013
This is a very smart film and I enjoyed it immensely as part of my holiday viewing this year. Challenging in a way that "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" never aspired to be, this one rewards the viewer (at least this viewer) in different ways.
Arnaud Desplechin directed this idiosyncratic and unorthodox tale about members of a dysfunctional family who come together over the course of 4 days for a strained and animosity-filled Christmas reunion.
Sound depressing? Or at the very least, entertaining in a lowbrow "Jerry Springer" mudfest kind of way?
Well, not to worry, mon ami. On the square, this film is no downer - it is on the contrary quite life-affirming...if you've got your inner tuning fork adjusted to the right frequency. As for being "Jerry Springer"-esque, nothing on that show was ever articulate or erudite, existential or human. This film is all of those things.
At its heart "A Christmas Tale" is a celebration of our contradictions and complexities as human beings, and how they affect the family dynamic.
Much of the film's success and appeal is due to its cast of richly hewn and interestingly developed characters, a self-labeled "bunch of weirdos". The Catherine Deneuve-led ensemble of actors (and I mean, "actors") are all superb, especially (for my money) Jean-Paul Roussillon as Abel, the Vuillard family patriarch; Mathieu Amalric as Henri, the middle Vuillard child, the "black sheep" of the family; and Chiara Mastroianni as Sylvia, the wife of Ivan, the youngest Vuillard child.
The film is paced expertly well and the narrative form is perfectly suited to its subject matter and large group of characters.
Another of the film's many strengths is its lush photography, shot in brilliant colours and soft tones. The Vuillard family home in Roubaix is warm and inviting (Henri even mentions to his girlfriend that "I always thought that this place was so great") - it's full of books and music and the Christmas tree becomes magnificent before our very eyes. It snows prettily outside for almost the entire duration of the get-together. The music on the film's soundtrack sometimes seems out of place, but somehow it all manages to fit anyway. All of these elements are in stark contrast to the drama and turmoil of the family's story being played out in the narrative, creating dichotomies of ugliness versus beauty, sadness versus joy, hatred versus love - just like real, everyday life. Of course, this is all intentional on the part of director Desplechin...and it all works, beautifully.
On a side note, I venture that director Desplechin is fond of Ingmar Bergman as I felt a lot of the Swedish master's influence throughout the proceedings. There's also quite a bit of Shakespeare in this 'tale' - soliloquies into the camera, a deliciously-composed letter, there's even a 'play within the play' as it were.

From the film --
"We, seekers of knowledge, remain unknown to ourselves with good reason: we have never sought ourselves. How should we some day find ourselves? Our treasure is to be found in the beehives of knowledge. Bees always searching, collectors of the honey of the mind, our hearts are set on one thing: bringing something home... As for the rest, as for life with its so-called experiences, who among us takes them seriously? Who has the time? Who hears the clock striking twelve? And, once roused, asks himself: 'What did the clock just strike?' In this way, we rub our ears after the fact and ask ourselves, surprised: 'What have we experienced?' Then we try, after the fact, as I just said, to count back over the twelve strokes of our experience, our life, our being, and lose count in the process. We are unknown to ourselves. We do not understand ourselves. Concerning ourselves, we are not seekers of knowledge."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
"On the Genealogy of Morals"
½ December 27, 2012
French. Relationships. Great acting.
½ December 18, 2012
I actually really liked this movie!
½ November 13, 2012
A car crash of a family drama filled with music, poetry & intrigue. At almost two & a half hours long I still would have gladly suffered with them a little longer.
August 7, 2012
I think it will be a great movie for my family
May 14, 2012
Conte familial brutal servi par une bande d'acteurs hors du commun, Amalric en tête. Sa souffrance transperce l'à (C)cran.
November 17, 2008
I love Catherine Deneuve, so I'd like to see it.
November 25, 2008
I am going to have to pass on this one.
February 2, 2012
Elderly couple Junon (Deneuve) and Abel (Roussillon) are living blissfully in their native France, but their peace is short lived when it's discovered that Junon has liver cancer. The only thing that can save her live is a bone marrow transplant, but the problem is is that she has a rare-blood type-- one that only her family could even possibly have. It sounds simple, but it turns out their family is extremely dysfunctional. Five years earlier, oldest daughter Elizabeth (Consigny) payed off her brother Henri's (Amalric) debts, but filed a restraining order against him from the family. The rest of the lot gets along well without him, but as it turns out, he has the blood type needed: which calls for an uncomfortable family reunion. Though it has a name that seems like it will get you in the Christmas spirit, "Un conte de NoŽl" is a dark dysfunctional family dramady that is near perfect in every category. An independent art house movie, you wouldn't expect much-- but this is a French film that is just as good as something you'd see from the greats. Never ever using cliches, or trying to use any material that would seem controversial, the film doesn't make a statement or change the pace of anything, yet it's a movie that you'll remember forever. Many dramatic side-stories take place throughout, never does the script call for anything melodramatic, and the actor's all underact to the full extent. Because of this, the film achieves brilliance, as well as every person involved, especially Amalric and Consigny. In the end of all of it, the film was nominated for 9 Cťsar's (and won only one for Roussillon for Best Supporting Actor) but it left out Best Actress for Deneuve and Best Supporting Actor for Amalric. Thanks to The Criterion Collection, this film will go down in history as one of Deneuve's best films. "Un conte de NoŽl" isn't necessarily an enjoyable experience, but in the end it'll fulfill your thirst for a good, old-fashioned movie. Recommended.
September 28, 2010
This is not like the cheesy Christmas movies one typically finds on Lifetime. It is a potent film about a peculiar but likable French family struggling to accept one another as they commemorate the holiday season. Unlike most holiday films, "A Christmas Tale" doesn't just offer the viewer lessons in the meaning of life. Rather, it presents a broken but caring family that engages these types of metaphysical queries. If your looking for a more "relatable" Christmas movie, this is it.
January 25, 2012
un conte de noel (a christmas tale)
January 1, 2012
You suspect if they'd lay off the drugs (alcohol and tobacco) they might all be physically and emotionally healthier. Just a thought.
December 22, 2011
family dramedy in french style. All weird, all unique, all their own personalities. Long but enjoyable. Not really the christmas film I was hoping for but it all happened over christmas and there was a tree in it....... As a bonus, the film has a very nice soundtrack!
December 17, 2011
A dark and twisted drama/comedy that featured superb acting. The story is very good, although it lags a bit in the middle, and I'm glad I watched it.
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