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Un Conte de Noel (A Christmas Tale)

Arnaud Desplechin

Un Conte de Noel (A Christmas Tale)
Resting its bulky two-and-a-half-hour running time on the volatility of a family both reunited and estranged by illness (mental and physical), Un Conte de Noel is unapologetically pretentious and nothing like any other mortality-driven clan drama of late. Constantly reminded of our role as audience, this tale of Junon (Catherine Deneuve), a terminally ill matriarch in need of a compatible bone marrow donor, features characters addressing the camera, irises, jump cuts, inter-titles and tonally incongruous musical choices. It serves the unpredictability of it all, as we learn of Junon and Abel's (Jean-Paul Roussillon) conception of middle-child Henri (Mathieu Amalric) as a potential donor for the six-year-old Joseph, who suffered the same form of leukaemia as his present day mother. Incompatible as a fraternal saviour, Henri loses the love of his mother, and is eventually expelled from the family by his vengeful older sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny). All of this, in addition to younger brother Ivan's (Melvil Poupaud) battle with mental illness, unfolds within moments of the film's opening, while the rest of the narrative details the drunken outbursts and hostile confrontations of a damaged family congregation. Care of excess stylization and an abundance of idiosyncrasies, these histrionics come across more curious and amusing than depressing, leaving us, and the characters, smirking when a son calls his mother the "c" word at the dinner table. Even our external knowledge to the film comes into play, as Deneuve's real life daughter (Chiarra Mastroianni) plays the figurehead's daughter-in-law in the film, heightening our awareness of cinematic and occasionally, theatrical construction. Art and life meet with a playful zeal, as contradictions defy our expectations, leaving us not only to assess familial bonds and encompassing significance of the black sheep but also the nature of narrative and the cloying sentiments we seemingly crave. No supplements are included with the DVD. (E1)
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