A Christmas Tale (Un Conte De Noel)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner14/01/2009

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 153 mins

Arnaud Desplechin's sprawling family drama is sharply observed and superbly acted, but it's also far too long and fails to engage on an emotional level.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Arnaud Desplechin, A Christmas Tale centres on the large Vuillard family, who gather at the family home in the industrial town of Roubaix, during the Christmas holidays. Emotions come to the fore when it's revealed that matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has been diagnosed with cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant.

It soon emerges that Junon's only compatible donors are her fragile teenage son Paul (Emile Berling) and her black sheep son Henri (Mathieu Amalric), who was banished from the family by his angry sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) years before, after she bailed out his debts for the final time. Naturally, tensions quickly erupt between Elizabeth and Henri, but other secrets are also waiting in the wings, most notably in the relationship between oldest son Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), his wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) and his cousin Simon (Laurent Capulluto), who has long harboured a crush on Sylvia.

The Good
The performances are excellent, with Deneuve, Amalric and Consigny all on great form and strong support from Mastroianni, Poupaud, Capulluto, not to mention the always watchable Emmanuelle Devos, who delivers a terrifically quirky performance as Henri's lover, Faunia. In addition, Jean-Paul Roussillon is cast to good effect as Deneuve's husband Abel and the scene-stealing Thomas and Clement Obled add an appealing, if sadly underused presence as the young twins, Bastile and Baptiste.

The Bad
Desplechin layers the film with flashbacks, multiple narrators, onscreen captions and various other techniques that are initially off-putting and ensure that you have to work quite hard to keep up. In addition, the film is at least 30 minutes too long and its sprawling, unfocussed structure means that it ultimately fails to engage at an emotional level.

Worth seeing?
In short, A Christmas Tale is a well acted, sharply observed family drama that's worth seeing for the performances but is ultimately overlong and nowhere near as moving as it should have been.

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Content updated: 23/10/2019 19:34

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