A Christmas Tale

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Year Released: 2008
Rating: 3.5

Beautifully rendered (and meticulously detailed) account of a French family coming together over the Holidays, with Mom (Catherine Deneuve) dealing with severe health problems and in need of a bone marrow transplant and a donor from her actual bloodline. To reduce this film to a simple description almost seems to trivialize its ambition and intelligence - it covers the familiar ground of sibling rivalry, long-held grudges, dark secrets, inside jokes and superstitions but in an unorthodox manner, as Desplechin uses a variety of techniques (including breaking the fourth wall, using animations and flashbacks and camera tricks) and peculiar editing rhythms to keep things fresh: sometimes the shifts are abrupt, and it took time for me to adjust to all the information about the family tree and its inner workings, but by the end - when scene stealer Mathieu Amalric and Deneuve meet in the hospital to play a game - I was on the verge of tears: as relatives, just because we're incompatible as friends doesn't mean we can't love each other (and that we aren't indebted to each other). This is the second notable film about family dynamics to come out of France in 2008: the other is Assayas' Summer Hours, which also basically asks about what elements of us stay behind once we're gone - with that movie, the focus is on inanimate artifacts and heirlooms (stripped of their narratives) while here it's the physical (reproduction as self-preservation). Both pictures can be counted among the most impressive achievements of the year.