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Christmas Tale, A


Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Laurent Capelluto, Emile Berling, Hippolyte Girardot, Melvin Poupaud

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Don't expect anything remotely cosy from this long-winded French film about a family reunion at Christmas. Mother Junon (Deneuve) is dying of myelodysplasia or refractory anaemia, whichever part of the script you follow. Eldest son Joseph died of it at seven.

Daughter Elisabeth (Consigny) banished her younger brother Henry (Bond villain Amalric) from her life - and the family's, it would seem - when bailing him out of money trouble 'for the last time'. Youngest son Ivan (Poupaud) is unaware that his wife Sylvia (Mastroianni) was 'gifted' to him by cousin Simon (Capelluto) who, now living with Junon, still pines for her.

All these, and a few more, roll up for Christmas, even Henri, the black sheep of the family, who finds that his bone marrow, and that of Paul (Berling), mentally troubled son of Elisabeth, are the only ones compatible with Junon. Henri is generally offensive, and gets beaten up by Claude (Girardot), Elisabeth's husband. Sylvia sleeps with Simon, but no one, least of all Ivan, seems to think anything of it.

Does this sustain us for 152 minutes? No!! Whole scenes, containing an excess of detail, go on far too long (particularly in the hospital at the end), while the characters often spout high-flown dialogue, sometimes with a nod to A Midsummer Night's Dream and specially from the lips of Junon's husband (Roussillon) who ineffectually presides over this chaotic gallery of hang-ups.

Of course the acting is good, particularly from Deneuve, who gives a real, vibrant performance, but all in all this is French cinema nearly at its most pretentious.

David Quinlan

France 2008. UK Distributor: New Wave Films. Colour by Eclair.
152 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 11 Jan 2009