This movie really fascinates me. It hooked me right in from the beginning to the end. Having said that, I also understand why some people would say they can’t stand this movie.
Sure, if you compare this movie with the typical holiday, family movies Hollywood usually make, A Christmas Tale is definitely the complete opposite of them. This movie is like the antithesis of all those upbeat, funny, light, and completely resolved flicks.
A Christmas Tale will make you wonder, uncomfortable, intrigued, and laugh (this one is not granted, but I did laugh at some points).
This movie tells a story of Junon (Catherine Deneuve), the matriarch of a big family, who is in search of a bone marrow donor in order to prevent her cells developed into leukemia. She and her husband, Abel, ask for their children and grandchildren to be tested if their blood matches with her. Plus to come home and celebrate Christmas together this year.
That is the big setup.
At the very beginning of the movie, we’re also told about a tale in the style of animation, in which Junon and Abel once had a young son, Joseph, who also needed a bone marrow donor.
The parents and their second child, Elizabeth, weren’t matched to Joseph, so they decided to conceive another child in order to save him. Unfortunately, this third child, Henri, wasn’t a match either and Joseph finally died because of leukemia. They then went on having the fourth child, Ivan.
As the movie progresses, it unfolds all the miseries, resentments, loves and grieves that apparently never fade over the loss of young Joseph and many things else that secretly happen in the family.
I’ve watched some parts of this movie over and over again. Especially Junon’s conversation with Henri (Mathieu Amalric) on her backyard’s swing. How they reminisce the memories of one another which, of course, filled with unaffectionate ones.
For a mother and son who clearly, visibly don’t like each other (they also haven’t met in the past six years), their gesture is such in a friendly manner. It makes you almost unsure if they’re not joking about resenting one another.
The biggest irony is that after all his life indirectly being blamed for Joseph’s death, now Henri’s bone marrow is beneficial to someone. He becomes Junon’s donor by the end of the movie. Although in a slight twist, Junon shows her arms getting bruises because her body is (apparently still) rejecting anything Henri gives.
A Christmas Tale is the kind of movies that don’t really have a beginning nor an end. I’m pretty sure some would find the ending very unsettling because instead of resolving one or two things that we don’t get since the beginning, it would confuse you and give you even more questions.
Above all, it is fascinating to see the affection that Junon and Abel have for each other in their age or Junon’s attitude toward her medical condition which she treats rather lightly.
You would never really understand, though, why Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) holds such resentments toward Henri. Why Henri is always in a banter filled with hate/love with his mother and sister, or anything that makes him such a screw up. Why Abel never intervenes in his children’s quiet-but-blatant quarrel.
Why Elizabeth treats her son as if he’s a vase made of easily broken glass nor what makes him one. Why Ivan is so chill after finding his wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni), sleeping with his cousin. You could only guess the reasons.
This movie gives me a familiar feeling as when my mother tells a story of her distant relatives: you don’t quite get how the drama begins and your mother ends the story without any resolution.
A Christmas Tale is merely a peek into one family’s life. A family in which each member has their own way of dealing with grieves and showing their love. It’s only a fragment of one’s life and you don’t get to see the conclusion.
Well, I don’t think we would know the conclusion of our lives unless we’re dead, anyway.