Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dysfunctional Desplechin

A Christmas Tale (Criterion), writer-director Arnaud Despleschin’s latest film, lacks his usual rigor. Usually, Despleschin’s films are as close to immersion in a great novel as any filmmaker working today: his best, My Sex Life, was his longest; La Sentinelle, Esther Kahn and Kings and Queen, though shorter, seem thinner and padded. A Christmas Tale is not up to his best, mainly because this melodrama about a dysfunctional French family has so many manipulative but phony climaxes that it seems longer than its 2-½ hours. Still, his formidable cast (led by the always remarkable Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve and Anne Consigny) does wonders throughout, and Despleschin directs with his usual mastery; only the miscalculated script prevents this overstuffed holiday bird from being a truly filling film event. A second disc of extras features Despleschin’s involving 2007 documentary about his family’s home, L’aimee; and Arnaud’s Tale, a 35-minute featurette that has interviews with the director and his actors.
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