Jan 09

It Was Only A Christmas Tale

Do You See + FT6 comments • 256 views

I am not a film distributor. I just go see the blasted things. But even I can see that the release of A Christmas Tale (the new Arnaud Desplechin movie) might have been a touch botched, with it coming out mid-January. But then I saw it, ALL 150 MINUTES OF IT, and its release date makes a little bit more sense. Because A Christmas Tale seems to exist to absolve you of hating your family over Christmas. It says that all families are dysfunctional, so its OK. Unfortunately it tries to prove this by creating a family with so many dysfunctions that you’d need a misuser’s guide just to make it not work.

It took me about two hours to work out exactly who was related to who, who was married to who and why they hated, loved, we cruel to, or having sex with each other. All the time it is perfectly entertaining, and keeps your attention, but you very rarely feel you are watching a piece of art which can be handily universalised into your experience. This family is fucked up because they fucked each other up. But mainly they are fucked up because they are written this way. There may be families like this out there (maybe all French families are this fucked up) but I doubt it. But at the same time its only comedic in a wry way, so the point of the film seems unclear. Sure there are interesting scenarios, some biting dialogue and some nice performances. But two and a half hours later (TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER) you are left with an overwhelming sense of Why?

On the other hand it is always nice to see films which denote how different cultures approach relatively mundane aspects of life. The Christmas traditions on show do not deviate much from British ones (Papa Noel is mentioned but never invoked). However the French lack of safety when using fireworks is appalling and completely earns the films 15 certificate. YOU NEVER RETURN TO A LIT FIREWORK! And in not showing injuries being caused the film is almost certainly responsible for some future deaths. By firework or by numb bum. I told you it was 150 minutes long didn’t I?

Here is a much shorter alternative: The Carol Of The Christmas Pickle.


  1. 1
    Ewan on 27 Jan 2009 #

    I had much the same response to Mr Desplechin’s earlier film Comment je me suis disputé (ma vie sexuelle), which is ALMOST THREE HOURS LONG. I should have been tipped off by the unending title, but it was by far my least favourite film of that particular Film Festival.

  2. 2
    Pete on 27 Jan 2009 #

    Wheras I have liked previous Desplechin films (Kings And Queen was terrific). And I do appreciate the stabs at experimentalism in this film (good puppet based opening, some bizarre use in music to change tone etc). But the length of the film lunges towards some sort of significance that it does not really earn.

    Oh, hilarrious French hip-hop scenes in it too.

  3. 3
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 27 Jan 2009 #

    there is no bad french hiphop

  4. 4
    pete on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Did I say it was bad? In what universe does hilarrious translate as bad??? (or properly spelt?)

  5. 5
    xyzzzz__ on 2 Feb 2009 #

    “But two and a half hours later (TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER) you are left with an overwhelming sense of Why?”

    They couldn’t afford choreographed car crashes and explosions that’s why…

  6. 6
    Pete Baran on 2 Feb 2009 #

    I don’t think that would have helped. And fireworks kind of count as explosions.

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