With the likes of Rare Exports and Tokyo Godfathers becoming cult classics around this time of year, and after a handful have cropped up in the past, this year’s Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar focuses solely on foreign language/ non-English Christmas films. Some simply less heard of around the world, and in some cases their home country, while others aren’t deeply rooted in the season. And so, via this year’s Calendar, let’s go abroad for this year’s Christmas vacation.
Behind today’s calendar ‘door’ is one final drama before offering some lighter choices before Christmas. Once again switching back to the idea of family, and staying within the French language as instead of family separation we look at the idea of attempted reunion over the festive season in 2008’s A Christmas Tale.
Almost everyone within A Christmas Tale is identified by how they relate to Catherine Deneuve’s Junon. She’s the reason some of them attempt to put their grievances and grudges aside as many figures are called back home not just to celebrate a potentially final family Christmas, but to help in the search for someone willing to donate suitable bone marrow for a required transplant which could save her life.
Arguments are the least of the problems between the family, particularly the set of siblings – mostly in their 30s. As with previous films in this year’s calendar, there appears to be a common theme of family secrets and past lives – as is featured in a number of seasonal re-watches for many people. Again, what better time to look back on a life and family than the season of goodwill? Goodwill in particular being something which A Christmas Tale uses and plays with rather well as the potential death of the family matriarch rears its head into multiple situations – even those which are very individual to certain figures.
Mix in themes about what, or rather who, real family is and how we view such relationships – particularly interesting in the case of Mahieu Amalric’s somewhat prickly character Henri, often stirring the pot in a number of situations – and there’s a fine set of elements for moments of not-quite-forgiveness. It helps the film to not entirely be a lengthy downbeat set of events. What causes this may be a set of lighter dramas, and indeed the likes of distractions for the characters as they try to still celebrate Christmas and not bring any more of a dampener to the festivities – you can see things playing on Junon’s mind as she tries to enjoy a special play that her grandchildren have put together.
Morality and mortality begin to come to the fore as the characters calm down and spend time thinking about their own attitudes instead of outbursts about each others – although, of course, thoughts clearly continue to linger at the back of various minds. The film’s pacing and form become clearer as it deals with the various characters and the way they find themselves impacted, and brought back together, under the circumstances of their mother’s illness. Christmas doesn’t just feel like a background element, or a reason to have the family come together other than the aforementioned illness, it’s used throughout and made a point of. There almost seems to be something redemptive or attitude-changing (although certainly not in the same vein as the classic example of Scrooge) about Christmas Day itself and attending midnight mass. Beginning to fully embrace the spirit of the day just as it starts. A true turning point for the film and the events and relationships that it depicts. Using Christmas as a quiet turning point instead of just including it.
A Christmas Tale can be viewed in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
Or, alongside being available on various physical platforms, you can always check JustWatch to see if there’s any other online services stocking the film, particularly in parts of the world outside of the UK.