Un conte de Noël
The Husband and I went to the movies last night. I thought I would surprise him by taking him out to see one of the sure-to-be Oscared films of the year. So, we saw A Christmas Tale and what a mind-freak that was!
In short, nothing really happens. There is a family, a French family, who is getting together for the holidays. And, like all families, they’re a little effed-up. There’s this whole long story about a kid who was born and had a rare disease, needed a bone-marrow transplant, and neither his parents nor his younger sister were a match. The mom gets pregnant with another child, to save the first one possibly, and it’s of no avail. He’s not a match. The first kid dies, they go on to have yet another child and that’s where our story begins.
We come back to a time when the now-oldest pays off her younger brother’s debt (Henri – the useless child) in exchange for never seeing him again. He is to be "banished". She can’t really say why. She can’t describe what’s wrong with him to her psychiatrist, nor to her parents, nor even, really, to him. She just knows that if a child is rejected by his own mother, he can’t be that good. BTW, her own kid is possibly schizo.
OK…so what brings the entire family back together for the holidays is that the mother, Junon, is now in need of a bone marrow transplant herself and is asking her entire family (three kids, one nephew, and three grand-kids) to get tested so that she can get help. Unfortunately, she too has a rare type. And two people match, Henri and Henri’s sister’s crazy son. Meanwhile, there’s a love triangle between the youngest child, his cousin, and his wife, Henri brings a new chick into the house for Christmas, and we get to meet a friend of the family as well as the dead grandmother’s companion, Roseaimee.
But…there’s more. And the movie ends with so many questions:
Why the scene with the heads-or-tails game between Henri and Junon?
Why the crazy blinding light as Faunia (Henri’s girlfriend) repeats "mon aimee" in his ear?
Why does Ivan seem to not care that his wife just slept with his cousin – he sees them, nods, she shakes her head, and he presses on. Later, we see her stealing furtive kisses with Cousin Simon…and if her husband doesn’t care, and her kids have already seen her in bed naked with Simon, then why the furtiveness?
And WHY oh WHY does Elizabeth hate her brother?
This would all be well and good and interesting except for the fact that nothing seems to make sense. I don’t mind movies that mess with my head. I kind of like them. But this one takes the cake. And it’s not even that confusing…which is perhaps the most confusing part? I mean, it starts to make sense…and then it decides not to. It sets up all the cliche holiday movie situations, crazy family, weird family history, drinking, illness to bring it all together, and a very patient, intelligent, patriarch. But then, it explodes them in ways that seem pointless and futile. And not like it’s purposefully pointless and futile, like Endgame, but like it thought it was being deep and saying something awesome about familial relationships and it wasn’t. Families stick together even though they are frustrating. The end.
So why was I ready to walk out? Maybe because after 2.5 hours in the theater, I still felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. The director plays with weird camera angles, uses this annoying peep-hole thing, and even has the characters occasionally look straight into the camera to sum things up. I would like this technique, except for the fact that it seems to appear at random…and occasionally seems very unnecessary. Furthermore, the camera goes from being nice and smooth to bumpy and all Law & Order like at random times. There are odd scenes in which characters are introduced, and then they disappear, as though they were thrown in for the hell of it. And there are weird flashbacks that I’m not quite sure are flashbacks at all.
And, maybe it’s because I’m not French, but I don’t get the way the relationships work… When Henri’s mother says that she was never close to any of her children, and that she dislikes Henri the most, am I supposed to believe her? He laughs, and she chuckles, but there is no sign of joking behind her smile. Then there was the fact that she met up with his girlfriend in a museum, they drove to the mall together, and then Henri’s mother abandons her there…and no one seems bothered by this at all.
And there’s the insane amount of smoking and drinking – especially insane when we’re to believe that the mother is going to get a bone marrow transplant for some rare cancer. What doctor is going to give someone who endangers their health that way a transplant that may very well be fatal in and of it self? Doctors don’t do that, right? Or maybe it’s just a French thing.
But maybe the most frustrating and stressful part of the movie (and perhaps the most frustrating and stressful part of the holidays in general – well, not this Christmas, but, you know, most Christmases) is that we, the audience members, feel as though we are watching this movie and spinning our tires. None of the questions are answered. There is no sense of resolution – it’s as if someone started telling a story and then just quit in the middle of it.
Although, it did give Jeremy and I a lot to talk about later. So…maybe it did it’s job so well that we didn’t even realize it. OR MAYBE it was just an overrated, artsy-fartsy movie. And I use "artsy-fartsy" with the most care, because some of my favorite movies are fartsy.