It’s hard to know where to start with a film as rich as A Christmas Tale (trailer), which opens tonight, November 21st at the Bridge Theater for an exclusive one-week run. It’s under consideration for one of France’s top film honors, the Louis Delluc prize, and no wonder: in two and a half hours that never drag or bore, director Arnaud Desplechin explores every aspect of a crazy dysfunctional family, and takes us on a journey that, for all its length, almost feels a bit too short.
The heart of the story is Junon (Catherine Deneuve) and Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), whose three adult children have been locked for years into a state of passive-aggressive feuding. Overshadowing their lives is the fate of their oldest child Joseph, who died of leukemia forty years earlier at the age of seven. When Junon develops the same disease — and there is a chance that one of her children may be able to donate marrow to save her life — they all return to the family home to be tested, and for the holidays. Merry Christmas!
It sounds like a depressing film — as Desplechin himself said of it, everything “in the scenario should scare a producer half to death” — but in fact it’s often quite hilarious, and all the tragedy is treated with a light touch that somehow doesn’t trivialize it. But in the end that’s very true to life. Add in the wonderful cast — Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Devos, Hippolyte Girardot, and Chiara Mastroianni (the only actress I can’t stop thinking about and Deneuve’s real-life daughter) — and it’s a film you just can’t miss.
Desplechin visited San Francisco back in October to attend a screening of the film at the San Francisco Film Society’s French Cinema Now festival. We chatted in his hotel suite; his accommodations delighted him so much that he took us out onto the balcony to share the amazing view he had of downtown and the bay. We enjoyed a rich, wide-ranging discussion about this and his other films, about his process, his opinions about various films ranging from Fanny and Alexander to The Royal Tenenbaums to The Outsiders, his plans to make a film about the birth of hip-hop in France, and why he refuses to think about casting while working on a script — even if, as with the case of Catherine Deneuve in this film, there’s really nobody else who could do the role.
It’s a lengthy interview but well worth your time, if you’d like to get a glimpse into the mind of one of the finest directors working in France today. Full text after the jump.