Friday, December 19, 2008

A Christmas Tale (Rhoades)

‘A Christmas Tale’ Is French Family Feud

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some years ago a photographer friend and I went in with French film exec Pierre Lescure to buy a stock photo archive. When I dropped by my friend’s studio to seal the deal, Lescure was there with his girlfriend – none other than actress Catherine Deneuve.

It seemed a little unnecessary, him buying this repository of old pinup photos when he was living with an actress who had been dubbed “the world’s most elegant woman.”

Standing there amid the camera equipment and lights and seamless backdrops, she looked quite at home, a woman who had been the “face” for Chanel No. 5, the star of such films as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Belle de Jour,” and “Indochine.” She’d spent much of her life in front of a camera.

Now when I see her again – starring in “A Christmas Tale,” the new holiday film opening today at the Tropic Cinema – she’s a bit older, but still a beautiful woman who commands your eye.
Here she plays the matriarch of a French family who learns she’s facing a life-threatening illness. As family members gather around her at Christmastime, their stoic resolve breaks down, turning it into a holiday of bickering, arguments, and debauchery.

The return of the family’s black sheep (a standout performance by Mathieu Amalric) after six years banishment acts as a catalyst – putting the “fun” in “dysfunctional” with this black comedy.

You’ll remember Amalric as the star of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” And as the villain in the recent 007 thriller “Quantum of Solace.”

Others in the cast of “A Christmas Tale” include Emmanuelle Devos, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Melvil Poupaud, Hippolyte Girardot, and Romain Goupil (as the psychiatrist).

This family drama was directed by Arnaud Desplechin, remembered for his controversial film “Kings and Queen.” Like “A Christmas Tale,” it starred Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, and Catherine Deneuve – but drew fire when the director’s ex-girlfriend sued, claiming that it revealed personal elements of their relationship.

Although she lost in court, Marianne Denicourt published “Mauvais genie” (“Evil Genius”), a novel about an unscrupulous film director who she calls “Arnold Desplancher.” Women scorned and all that.

“A Christmas Tale” (French title: “Un conte de Noël”) is subtitled, a great way to brush up on your French. And at the same time continue your cinematic love affair with Catherine Deneuve.
[from Solares Hill]

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