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A Christmas Tale
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Reviewed on 2008-12-25
Received[3]  out of 4 stars
GenreComedy / Drama
The Vuillards of Roubaix are a dysfunctional French family with their share of problems that include mental illness, cancer, estrangement and loss. They gather under one roof for four days leading up to Christmas. Their efforts to achieve solidarity unravel into feuding, drunkenness and bed-hopping as everyone struggles to make sense of their lives and an uncertain future.

The provincial parents are Junon (Catherine Deneuve) and Abel. Their first child, Joseph, died at age 6 from Burkitt’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. They were unable to find a suitable bone-marrow donor.

Elizabeth, their oldest living child, is a virtuous and melancholic playwright married to Claude, a mathematician. They have a teenage son, Paul, who has recently suffered a nervous breakdown.

Henri (Mathieu Amalric from “Quantum of Solace” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) is the middle child and the self-destructive black sheep of the family. He was banished from the family five years ago by Elizabeth after she paid off his debts and saved him from debtor’s prison.

The youngest brother, Ivan, is the shy peacemaker caught in the middle of tribal warfare between his two older siblings. He is happily married to the beautiful Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni, real-life daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Deneuve). They have two mischievous and playful young sons. Lovesick cousin Simon and Henri’s latest girlfriend Faunia are also part of the family reunion.

The big news is that Junon needs a compatible donor since she has been diagnosed with a similar degenerative cancer. She must choose between Henri and Paul, who are appropriate matches for her rare blood type.

This is a sprawling domestic drama that goes off in different directions. The script excels in developing the characters. You understand their complex personalities and motivations. Although the running time is 2 ½ hours, it is worth spending time with this family over Christmas.

The movie frequently shifts the narrator so the audience is privy to varying points of view. High praise goes to director and co-writer Arnaud Desplechin for bringing to the silver screen this engaging and emotionally moving saga.

Deneuve is a class act who carries herself with grace and dignity. Her solid performance deserves award recognition. Amalric continues to amaze with another stellar job of acting. He is an international star on the rise with a bright future.

Other strengths are the cinematography, editing, dialogue and musical score. French with English subtitles. Opening exclusively at the Tivoli.

Review By:
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"


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