Ever had a Netflix movie hang around your neck like an albatross? (Literary allusion explained here, for those who fell asleep in 10th grade English class).
In my defense, A Christmas Tale (in French Un conte de Noël) seemed to sneak up in my queue. It was meant to arrive around the holidays LAST YEAR, but instead got co-opted by repeated Party Down (RIP) viewings. The disc arrived around April, and I had been putting off watching it. So many excuses: it’s long, in French, and Christmas-themed.
The disc seemed destined to return unwatched, but a cold front in the Bay Area sometime in August inspired me to make some tea and watch it. (That’s right, this post is fraught with procrastination, from watching, to writing, to posting).
Now that it’s actually the holidays, I can justify a recommendation, for it’s a lovely, rich movie, if perhaps more melancholy than your typical Christmas cinema (although It’s a Wonderful Life is quite dark when you think about it).
Mid-way through watching, it struck me how much A Christmas Tale reminded me of The Royal Tenenbaums. There’s a sick parent, an elegant matriach (Catherine Deneuve, natch), a killer soundtrack, depressed grown-up siblings, a suicide attempt, a family hanger-on, even a play put on by children.
The two movies would make an interesting side-by-side viewing. Anderson’s films have such wonderful, tightly manicured art direction but the characters verge on being caricatures. Any sort of real emotion on their part creeps in on the edges. A Christmas Tale, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, has similarly beautifully shot scenes in French hospitals and the wonderful, rambling family home, but the characters in A Christmas Tale wear their childhood traumas on their sleeve and always seem ready to erupt. One especially harrowing scene has Deneuve and her grown son joking about how much she didn’t love him after the childhood death of another son. Another example of Gallic cruelty: if a partner of mind slept with someone else under my nose, would I be able to wake up and breakfast with them both? Is this another of those Gallic things? Yes? OK.
In short. It’s a rich and devastating movie. Recommended pre or post actual holiday interactions with family (i.e. good for some perspective).
Plus, it introduced me to this Otis Redding song, which I’ve listened to 8 times a day so far this month:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBmPIQvovD0]