I keep getting surprised like this: movie genres I generally shy away from sometimes turn out to be enjoyable viewings. A case in point is A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noël). You know – the family gathering around the holidays, sometimes Thanksgiving, sometimes Christmas. It’s not the rather complicated dynamics of this family that kept me interested however. As always, it was the acting that engaged me. I’m an ‘actor’ guy. If the acting is at a high level, then I’m likely to be drawn in. And the acting here is very good indeed, starting with the great Catherine Deneuve. In this ‘tale’ of a holiday reunion, Deneuve is the matriarch of the Vuillard family, and the holiday is given more import because of the cancer diagnosis of Junon (Deneuve). It’s wonderful how the French value their aging actresses, unlike mainstream American films which seem to discard women at the first sign of a wrinkle. The industry has its exceptions of course. Deneuve has the ability to project a vibrancy wrapped in a world weariness that is remarkable.
Her eldest child Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) plays the resentful daughter who had lost a child to a genetic disease. Elizabeth is the ‘artist’ of the family, with a high-strung personality to match. The eldest son (Elizabeth’s brother) Henri (Mathieu Amalric) has buried his essential good nature in his anger: anger toward his failure, anger toward Elizabeth who has ‘banished’ him from all family gatherings. What is his failure? He had been conceived in hopes that he would be able to donate bone marrow to Elizabeth’s son – but he dies before he was of age. If this defies credibility, I’m with you there, but who is to say…
The irony is that Henri is the best hope for the survival of their mother, since his bone marrow might just save her! Well, if the story arc is a bit of a reach, never underestimate the complications that families can get themselves all twisted up about.
Junon’s husband Abel is played by Jean-Paul Roussillon. Fleshing out the cast are Chiara Mastroianni (Sylvia, Ivan’s wife), the youngest son Ivan (Melvil Poupaud). Elizabeth has a bit of an unfinished relationship with Simon, Ivan’s good friend and cousin (Laurent Capelluto). My favorite perhaps, was the minor role of Henri’s girlfriend Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos) who played the role of an audience to this madness, much as the filmgoer might: the bemused, outside observer.
Just a terrific, professional ensemble cast that was a joy to watch go through their paces.