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Where would we be without family dysfunction?

Posted at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2008 by Euan Kerr

"A Christmas Tale" Arnaud Desplechin's dark comedy helps us realize that the abnormalities of our families are in fact quite normal.

The plot is straightforward: Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is the matriarch of a family of cultured neurotics. Six years ago the oldest sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) stage-managed the banishment of her ne'er-do-well brother Henri (Mathieu Amalric,) No-one knows really how Henri has upset Elizabeth, but the family accepted what is an outrageous act as being right and proper.

Things change when Junon discovers she has an aggressive cancer which can only be treated by a bone marrow transplant, and close relatives are likely the best donors. Henri who has a serious drinking problem finds himself welcomed back into the bosom of the family.

Desplechin doesn't delve into the causes of the conflict, only the individual impacts and the way they play out in the relationships between the various family members. He clearly believes love and hate, and admiration and distain are not at the ends of a flat plane, but just points on a circle.

The result is an engaging film which may take a couple of viewings to unravel, or may unravel differently depending on where you are with your own family.

Happy holidays indeed.

December 2008
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