2008, Movies

A Christmas Tale (2008, Arnaud Desplechin)

The way I watch older movies is I go through my ridiculously long 90-page list and see what I can watch on Netflix or borrow from the library. I rarely remember why I added them. That can lead to some pretty hilarious misunderstandings when I added something I really didn’t mean to. Or, as in this case, it can cause some surprises. Because, um, I think I thought this was a horror movie?

Well, it’s not a horror movie. Instead, it’s the most European (really: French) “Christmas” movie you’ve ever seen. Leave it to the French to make a Christmas film about family dysfunction and cancer that’s subtle and fairly believable. There are lots of American movies of family dysfunction at Christmas but in my experience they usually involve lots of shouting. Not so this film. Like those films, the only thing that makes this film a Christmas movie is that it takes place at Christmas.

The film is very well acted and the relationships all feel real. Nobody feels like a caricature and, as I mentioned before, it feels pretty believable and realistic – I can imagine this family existing in real life and having these experiences. And because this is a French film, everyone looks like a real person, too, which helps.

But this is a pretty stagey movie. Though not initially, once the family gets together it feels like a play. Even though they use multiple locations, even though they use a bunch of old fashioned film techniques to try to make it feel like more a film, it feels extremely stagey. I always struggle with films that feel too much like plays unless I really love the material and, well, I must say I don’t love this material.

When I was younger, I had a really high tolerance for films about rich people with problems simply because I had a really high tolerance for films about people with problems, specifically films that had a humours bent. (This film is mildly amusing and might be more amusing if I was French.) But, the older I get the more I am tired for rich people with problems films or, in this case, upper middle class people with problems. I no longer know why I’m supposed to care about them and how the daughter hates her brother, or the other brother’s wife still loves their cousin, or that the mother is dying of cancer.

Yes, this particular version of this is well made, despite how stagey it feels to me. But I’m pretty sure I’d rather watch a film about people with less means celebrating Christmas instead. I want to know what it’s like for a family just getting by, as I’ve seen too many of these “we have money but we hate each other” films at this point.

Again, that’s not a comment on this film in particular, more just where I’m at with my life and the sheer number of films I’ve watched.

7/10 I guess

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