Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is the Gift this Season Needs

This touching family comedy is a holiday feast, with extra stuffing

A Christmas Tale opens in New York in the wake of two serious American movies—Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married and Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York—each with analogies to Desplechin's. An ensemble drama about a death-haunted family fixated on a particularly obnoxious member and brought together in celebration, Rachel has a close resemblance to A Christmas Tale narrative, while Kaufman works the art-life conundrum with a sense of manic invention rivaling Desplechin's. But where humorless Demme appears handcuffed by self-righteous correctness and morbid Kaufman seems overwhelmed by the chore of directing an undirectable script, Desplechin exhibits a contagious pleasure in his work.

Heavy meal: Mathieu Amalric falls into the thick stew of A Christmas Tale.
Jean-Claude Lother/ Why Not Productions
Heavy meal: Mathieu Amalric falls into the thick stew of A Christmas Tale.

As suffocating (and overpraised) as Rachel and Synecdoche are, one hopes that they haven't sucked the critical oxygen out of the atmosphere or overdrawn all available superlatives from the dictionary. A Christmas Tale is deft, playful, fluid, haunting, and filled with the joy of filmmaking.

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