Un conte de Noël, or A Christmas Tale (as unfortunately translated in English) was my Movie Monday pick of the week. We went to the IFC, which is my favorite theater as they play short films before evening's feature. The chosen short this Monday was a lovely 4 minutes of an overweight synchronized swimmer swimming her little heart out... love that someone decided to make a movie about that! Anyway...
Un conte de Noël is a dark french tale of a family brought together by life threatening illness during the Christmas holiday. As previously mentioned, this film held my favorite set-up-- a bunch of people in a house for a weekend, all talk talk talk. The Family Stone meets The Big Chill meets Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. The characters and sequences are announced with doom-- a la Luhrmann-- and the main players took turns with camera-facing soliloquies-- a la Ferris Bueller. Incroyable!
Mathieu Amalric stars as Henri, the problem-child turned problem-adult. Love him. I last saw Amalric in Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), where his stunning performance made me sob uncontrollably for the entire evening. He clearly didn't disappoint my irrational emotional reactions in Un conte de Noël either, as I literally passed out after this film. The man can act. (That-- or my notoriously light head couldn't handle the very frank and very realistic bone marrow transplant sequence. Blechk.)
The film opens with a brief family histoire followed by the banishment of Henri from the Vuillard family, as demanded by Elizabeth, the eldest. Five years later, Junon (Mama Vuillard) discovers a rare disease that can only be cured by a very specific bone marrow transplant that could kill her, the donor, or both. Da da daaaaaa... What follows is a not-so-nice return of the prodigal son into his estranged family's fete de Noel. And guess whose dark and twisty blood ends up being a perfect match... Et voila.
The family interactions slide right past dysfunctional into settled disdain. Snapping, punching, ignoring, glaring, don't-you-dare-come-near-me, hard and dirty disdain. Super gratifying for the viewer. A friend of mine recently criticized our mutual reactions and interactions as being Minnesota-nice. While it stung at the time, more honest verbalizations may have avoided a fall-out of massive proportions. What if we weren't afraid of onlookers overhearing our words, what if we could say anything to anyone and work it out solidly? Stop tiptoeing, stop with the it's okay, it's okay, it's okays...
If everything is spattered on the table, we are able to love and not-love as we please. The family lash-outs do mirror Rachel Getting Married, but in a much darker, French noir-ness (noir-ness?). Its all somewhat refreshing. Don't you love me anymore, Mother? asks Henri. I never loved you, answers Junon with a smirk.
The tone of course crosses to joy (love, even!) as battles are dissolved and jingle bells are hung. Champagne, tinsel, fireworks, snowfall, paper crowns, figgy pudding, fa-la-la. It is A Christmas Tale, afterall, despite the darkness and the depth. The film creates closure without discrediting its art. These people aren't going to kiss and make up, they aren't going to change into a grand sense of togetherness. But they do begin to throw approving glances, they do meet with smiling eyes and a greater understanding of self and understanding of other. And despite the horrific and super realistic bone-marrow transplant final scene... we left with a bit of that understanding too.