Saturday, December 20, 2008

We Don't Care. We're Waiting for Jesus.

A Christmas Tale really surprised me. I hate dramas about rich dysfunctional families. But, I found myself smiling throughout this one. It's funny that the artifice involved in the narrative structure (breaking the fourth wall, an irising lens, titles) heightened my connection to the story and its characters, so much more so than the supposed "verite" of such a false film like Rachel Getting Married.

Two children are gathered around a creche, late Christmas Eve, in their grandparents' house, wondering when the baby Jesus will arrive. "Jesus never existed," says their father. "We don't care. We're waiting for Jesus," is the final answer given by the boys. And so, I maintain, the theme of A Christmas Tale asserts itself boldly from the lips of these boys.

I loved almost all of this film, and that's probably why the part that disappointed me the most was such a bitter disappointment. All of the characters are presented plainly, faults at the fore, unjudged. The script and direction keep us sympathetic, never disgusted. But, one character, Sylvia transcends the pain of those around her, discovers old secrets, and makes decisions that are shown to heal those connected to her. I hated this. Without any spoilers, I can only say that her decisions are clearly affirmed by the director through a rather intentionally obvious linking of her story to the story of Pocahontas in Malick's The New World. I know what connection Desplechin is trying to make, but I don't think it works. Slyvia's "sacrifice" is not the sacrifice of Pocahontas (though I admit some parallels). To be fair, though, this is only one subplot and does not detract too much from the rest.

All in all, a fine film. I'm glad that I broke down and went to see it.


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