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Movie Review: A Christmas Tale

Alternate Title: Holiday Hemlock

Story: If you are looking for a chestnuts roasting on an open fire type of rosy cheeked, tidy holiday tale stay away from this latest film by director Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queens). Instead of those sappy, neatly tied up endings of dysfunction family junction put out by Hollywood at this time of years, writers Desplechin and Emmanuel Bourdieu deliver a family that probably makes your own look loving, warm and fuzzy.

The cast of characters include Junon and Abel who are the parents of three adult children. The history of this warring clan is muddied with a long ago childhood death that has never been emotionally resolved, a recent diagnosis of cancer that might be remedied with a matching donor transplant, a depressed daughter, a mentally tortured teenage son and a self-destructive black sheep son who has been banished from family events. If that is not enough for you they throw in a story line about filial, unrequited love. This merry band of a nut jobs find themselves thrown together in the family home for the week before Christmas. While there is not any mistletoe, there is some bed hopping (it is a French film).

The good news is that there are moments of wonder, surprise and cinematic art that fill the screen. The bad news is that the story, what there is of it, goes on too long and many of the questions I had were never answered.

Watch the trailer but do not be fooled. This in NOT a comedy as marketed in the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1yPhab421Q

Acting: Catherine Deneuve (Junon) is always a treat to see on the big screen. Jean-Paul Roussillon (Abel), was terrific as the father of this dysfunctional clan. Anne Consigny (Élizabeth), the emotionally depressed sister was a bit two-dimensional for my taste. Mathieu Amalric (Henri), the black sheep, is one of the best actors around. He was wonderful. Melvil Poupaud (Ivan), the other son, also had a part with not much to do or develop. Emmanuelle Devos (Faunia), as the token Jewish date brought to the family gathering was lost on me. Chiara Mastroianni (Sylvia), has a wonderful light to her. Her DNA shows (see trivia below).

Trivia: Catherine Deneuve had a 'love child' with Roger Vadim who was also married at various times to Bridget Bardot and Jane Fonda. She also has a child with Marcello Mastroianni, Chiara Mastroianni who plays daughter-in-law, Sylvia in this film. Mathieu Amalric also plays the eco-villain in Quantam of Solace and was the star in the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Anne Consigny (Élizabeth), played the very patient transcriber in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Predilection: None

Critters: An imaginary dog.

Food: It is the Christmas holiday time of year. There was a lot of food but much of it is either thrown or not eaten.

Sex Spectrum: Oui.

Soundtrack: An extremely eclectic track by Grégoire Hetzel.

Opening Titles: A delightful entry into the film with shadow puppets and an intro story line.

Visual Art: Director of photography, Éric Gautier does a beautiful job of getting all of the detail just right in this wacky home.

Weather: It is winter in Roubaix, a town near the Belgium border.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 2

Squirm Scale: 1 - The scenes in the hospital are squirmy.

Drift Factor: I looked at my watch a number of times as I wondered where the heck this story was going.

Predictability Level: Did not have a clue.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: No

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine.

Length: 30 minutes over the two hour Lobo rule.