F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 13, 2015)

13 08 2015

A Christmas TaleIt’s hotter than Hades here in Houston, so I ventured into Arnaud Despelchin’s “A Christmas Tale” for some escapism.  (Just kidding, I watched it mostly because the Criterion Collection deemed it worthy of inclusion in their hallowed ground of cinephilia.)  Despite the title, this is a film that should not be dusted off every December to watch ritualistically like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Rather, “A Christmas Tale” merely uses the holiday as its setting – not its subject.  A large French family needs to gather under the same roof for all this drama to play out, and what better occasion is there for that than Christmas?  Instead of celebration, this day brings bitterness, resentment, and sorrow.

The family’s matriarch, Catherine Deneuve’s regal Junon Vuillard, needs a bone-marrow transplant to treat her fast-progressing cancer.  She needs a match from one of her children or grandchildren, all of which seem to struggle with some sort of serious issue.  (Except the two toddlers, but one can only imagine what kind of misery awaits them when they are old enough.)  To list everyone’s baggage would just consume the word count of a whole other review, not to mention spoil the fun of watching everyone collide and implode.

Though two and a half hours for a family melodrama might seem excessive, “A Christmas Tale” never buckles under the weight of its runtime.  Despelchin’s epic sprawl and familial brawl recalls the ’90s works of Paul Thomas Anderson – a comparison anyone who reads my reviews is high enough praise to earn the distinction of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  Here is a movie with a grandiosity to its mood that feels perfectly cinematic, never exaggerated or gauche, anchored in a sharply written script and fine performance by a stellar cast.  What more could one ask for underneath the tree?