un conte de noel by arnaud desplechin

this is about a day late and dollar short, but i have to throw this up here anyway because once in a blue moon a movie about a family comes along that actually feels true and intelligent and makes you a part of its beauty, fullness, messiness and intricacy for a while, and this one is even based around a xmas reunion of sorts.  in arnaud desplechin’s un conte de noel (a christmas tale), catherine deneuve plays junon, the matriarch of the vuillard family, who has recently learned that she has a degenerative disease and needs to find a candidate for a bone marrow transplant, hopefully, in one of the younger vuillards.  there is an interesting moment in the film where her husband abel remarks that they never knew from whom one of their babies had inherited this same disease that killed him years ago until now as his wife manifests the same; his wife is both the one that made their family possible and also a menace undiscovered, the cause of their deepest collective grief.

so the motley crew of heirs assembles:  the fragile and divisive eldest, elizabeth, a playwright whose depressive tendencies have estranged her husband and hospitalized her son, paul;  henri (mathieu amalric), whom elizabeth managed to have disowned the last six years, scapegoated out of the family on the premise of the debt he tried to have their father assume, who returns unwelcome with his girlfriend, faunia (emmanuelle devos); the beautiful ivan (melvil poupaud) whose own adolescent collapse has made him paul’s ally, and his wife sylvia (chiara mastroianni), whose fate was decided by all the vuillard men, and whose children carry on the legacy of the indomitable, curious, oddball family spirit; and simon, the painter cousin who seems the best loved of all, though deliberately holds himself at a distance to preserve their peace.   as henri chastens elizabeth in a letter:  “do not act beyond your capacity to repair.”

there are moments of such honesty between these characters and beauty in their intimacy with one another…henri on the train tracks with his girlfriend faunia, saying goodbye before she leaves to join her own family–not because they have a big celebration of her own but she sees no reason to stay with henri for his, since she doesn’t believe in the holiday and has already been a part of his world a few days.  henri and junon smoking outside together, talking about their estrangement and the space between them that binds as much as it separates, for they do not force themselves to flesh it out. simon, tracing the shape of the woman he loves, committing every touch to memory, for the first and last time.  they find not one but two donors in the family, there is a fight and a play and lots of music and eating and drinking and the requisite quiet moments in between, full of expectation and crossed loyalties and loss and joy and life.  criterion released it on dvd last month with some others, so if you’re looking for a counterpoint to gomorrah.  or just get this and netflix the latter.

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