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A Christmas Tale(2008)
After Junon, their regal matriarch, is diagnosed with cancer and told she requires a bone-marrow transplant from a blood relative, an estranged French family reunites for a holiday gathering complicated by unrequited childhood loves and blinding grudges. Among the feuding family members are Elizabeth, a melancholy playwright with a withdrawn teenage son, and the brother she despises, the charismatic ne'er-do-well Henri, who brings along his new girlfriend.
For more about A Christmas Tale and the A Christmas Tale Blu-ray release, see A Christmas Tale Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on December 1, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Hippolyte Girardot
» See full cast & crew
A Christmas Tale Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, December 1, 2009
Nominated for Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and winner of a Cesar award for Best Supporting Actor (Jean-Paul Roussillon), Gallic director Arnaud Desplechin's "Un conte de Noël" a.k.a "A Christmas Tale" (2008) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The disc contains a new, supervised and approved by director Arnaud Desplechin, high-definition digital transfer created from a 35mm interpositive. Amongst the supplemental features on the disc are: the director's hour-long documentary "L'aimee" (2007); "Arnaud's Tale", an exclusive new documentary with director Arnaud Desplechin and stars Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Almaric; and more. A fully illustrated 20-page booklet has been included as well. With optional English subtitles. Region-A "locked".
A Christmas Tale is a simple yet remarkably complex film about an upper class bourgeois French family, the Vuillards, whose members are faced with a difficult dilemma. The film is directed by Arnaud Desplechin, arguably the most prominent of current French directors.
Christmas time. Junon (Catherine Deneuve, La cagna) and Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon, The Idol) have invited their youngest child, Ivan (Melvil Poupaud, The Broken), and his wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni, It's Easier for a Camel); their middle child, Henri (Mathieu Amalric, Kings & Queen), who would be accompanied by his lover, Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos, Read My Lips); their oldest child, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny, Anna M.), her husband, Claude (Hippolyte Girardot, Modigliani), and their son, Paul (Emile Berling); and Junon's nephew, Simon (Laurent Capelluto, For a Son), to visit them. The last time the Vuillard family gathered was six years ago - in court. Since then, Elizabeth has not spoken to Henri and Junon has been diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer.
Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to be cured. Preliminary tests have indicated that there are only two people in her family that could be donors – Paul and Henri. Everyone realizes that Henri is the best bet – because there could be some serious complications during the procedure - but given his past - he has always been the Vuillard family's black sheep – no one feels comfortable stating the obvious.
The Gathering. Each of the Vuillards learns something new about their family. Old feuds are rekindled, controversial relationships addressed, and strong words spoken again. Everything has changed and nothing has changed.
Let's state the obvious: A Christmas Tale is an unusually long film – or perhaps not so much if viewers have already seen Desplechin's award-winning Kings & Queen and know what to expect from the Gallic director - and keeping track of its many characters could be a rather challenging task. It is also a film that blends comedy and drama in a way that could quickly turn off some viewers who like their films as straightforward as possible.
There are certain aspects of A Christmas Tale that remind about Maurice Pialat's work (Loulou; À nos amours); in particular, Henri's erratic behavior. The manner in which the actions of the main protagonists are followed reminds about the films of former "Cahiers du Cinema" critic Jacques Rivette (Va savoir). There is also a bit of that marquee sweet melancholy the films of Bertrand Blier are infused with (Trop belle pour toi; Mon home).
Still, A Christmas Tale is a truly unique film, one that only Desplechin could have directed. There is a sense of intimacy in it that gives its story that special quality only great film directors know how to capture with their camera. It is what tricks viewers to believe that the characters they see on the screen are real people.
Halfway through A Christmas Tale, for example, we see Junon and Faunia shopping together. Junon casually mentions to Faunia that she does not like Sylvia because "she took my baby boy". Then, she tells Faunia that she likes her because "you took the one I don't like". We see Junon smiling and assume that this is just a casual conversation, one that isn't indicative of her true feelings. Yet, we notice a tiny twitch on her face that suggests otherwise – she has been honest, perhaps more than a mother should be.
This sense of intimacy is further enhanced by the numerous "confessions" (the actors speaking directly to the camera) and voice-overs that appear in A Christmas Tale. It is as if we are alone with the Vuillards and they are telling us their most precious secrets. We don't always know how to react to them, but by the time the end credits roll, we almost feel like we have become part of their family.
A Christmas Tale Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The disc contains a new, supervised and approved by director Arnaud Desplechin, high-definition transfer created from a 35mm interpositive. (Telecine supervisors: Arnaud Desplechin and Amandine Gazaud. Additional telecine supervision: Lee Kline).
This is a solid transfer! Detail is excellent, clarity terrific and contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film. The close-ups, in particular, are lovely (the camera spends a great deal of time studying the faces of the main protagonists). The color-scheme is also very effective - reds, blues, browns, grays, blacks and whites look rich and healthy. Furthermore, I did not detect any disturbing digital artifacts, strong edge-enhancement, or macroblocking patterns. Additionally, the film grain is kept intact. There are no stability issues to report either. Finally, I did not spot any annoying scratches, debris, stains, or dirt. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" disc. Therefore, unless you have a native Region-A or Region-Free player, you won't be able to access its content).
A Christmas Tale Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The audio for A Christmas Tale has been remastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tool HD. Unsurprisingly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included on this Blu-ray disc is of exceptionally high quality.
A Christmas Tale is a dialog-heavy film; therefore, surround activity is limited. In fact, the only time the surround channels are active is during a few selected scenes where Henri gets a little bit rowdy. The dialog is crisp and very easy to follow. Also, there are absolutely no pops, cracks or hissings that I noticed whiled viewing the film.
A Christmas Tale Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
L'aimee - In 2007, Arnaud Desplechin made this hour-long documentary to record the selling of his family home. But L'aimee became much more- an exploration of his father's impressions of the mother he never knew. Portraying family intimacy with fluid, unconventional filmmaking, Laimee in many ways anticipates Desplechin's next feature, A Christmas Tale. Courtesy of Magic Films and Why Not Productions. In French, with optional English subtitles (97 min, 1080/60i).
Arnaud's Tale - in this exclusive new documentary, director Arnaud Desplechin and stars Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Almaric discuss the making of A Christmas Tale. In English, with optional English subtitles. (36 min, 1080p).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
American release trailer - In English and French, with optional English subtitles. (3 min, 1080p).
Booklet - a 20-page illustrated booklet containing Phillip Lopate's essay "The Inescapable Family" (the author's most recent books are Two Marriages; Notes on Sontag; and At the End of the Day, as well as stills from the film and technical information about the presentation).
A Christmas Tale Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is a wonderful yet a bit too elaborate character study that some viewers may have a difficult time tolerating. I personally found the dysfunctional Vuillards and their dilemmas fascinating to behold. As expected, Criterion's presentation of the film is excellent. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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