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CANNES 2008 Competition / France

A bittersweet Christmas Tale


Bitter unresolved family issues are served up in Arnaud Desplechin's sixth feature, A Christmas Tale [+see also:
film profile
, presented this morning in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film is as brilliant as it is cruel, and brings together the sweetness of intelligence and cinematic know-how with its characters’ overflowing bitterness. Its explosive elegance is near perfect, yet it successfully manages to keep the audience at an emotional distance.

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"The annoying thing is that I might die," says Junon (Catherine Deneuve), who needs a bone marrow transplant to survive cancer. This compels the return home for Christmas of her eccentric and caustic young son (Mathieu Amalric), after a five-year absence, and his elder sister (Anne Consigny), who thinks he is the devil.

The Roubaix home, in northern France, also shelters several other characters: the father (Jean-Paul Roussillon), a second son (Melvil Poupaud), their wives and husband (Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos, Hippolyte Girardot, respectively), three grandsons (among them a depressive teen) and a nephew (Laurent Capelluto). They face each other over and over again, leading a verbal war in a ballet orchestrated with genius by Desplechin and DoP Eric Gautier.

This exploration of a family – made of viciousness, a tormented past and a painful present – goes straight to the heart, in particular those psychologically unpleasant zones that Desplechin loves to depict. The result is a high-class feature that is both complex and subtle.

Produced by Why Not Productions for €6.36m, the film was co-produced by France 2 Cinéma, backed by the National Film Centre (CNC), Canal + and Ciné Cinéma. Bac Films is handling French distribution and Wild Bunch international sales.

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(Translated from French)

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