Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noel)

Mathieu Amalric teeters on the edge in "A Christmas Tale." He plays Henri, the son of Junon (Catherine Deneuve) and Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), and the brother of Elizabeth (Anne Consigny, who played eye-stenographer for Almaric in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") and Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), and the cousin of Simon (Laurent Capelluto). These family members and their spouses and dates all come together for Christmas in Bordeaux. Henri has been cast out from the family for a few years by Elizabeth, and now he's back at the gathering.

Also coinciding: Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to survive and only two people in the family have the right blood type: Henri and Elizabeth's son, Paul (Emile Berling). This causes quite a bit of tension. Another subplot: a love triangle that includes Ivan, Simon, and Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni, who voiced for Marjane later on in "Persepolis"), Ivan's wife but really a lover of Simon. All of these plots boil over in the well-orchestrated second and third acts of "A Christmas Tale." But the first half is insanity, and it really helps to have all the characters in the same room as opposed to scattered all over France. In the beginning, we are given some tension: we find out that the brother of Elizabeth, Henri, and Ivan, Joseph died at 6 years old. This is the foundation for a family on the edge of a breakdown.

Amalric does his part for the second year in a row, acting his best since his great performance in "The Diving Bell" (which I crowned the best performance by a lead actor). This year has been one of those big movie years for him: he's been in a lot of movies in 2008, most notably this film, "A Secret," and "Quantum of Solace." I haven't seen "A Secret," but I have seen "Q of S" which I believe he was a less than stellar bad guy. In this film, though, he puts in his all, and he helps add interest to a hard-to-follow plot. The film definitely thanked him, providing, as I said, two good rear acts to pull together into a very good foreign film, a possible nominee for Best Foreign Film, and one risky film that has earned an odd place in my heart. A-

The film has some sexual content, some language, and some disturbing images. Not for children.

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