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Cannes '08: Arnaud Desplechin's 'A Christmas Tale' is a gift from France

May 16, 2008 |  7:11 am

Despla

It's been more than 20 years since a hometown French film won the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes, but there is definitely a strong contender in Arnaud Desplechin's marvelous "A Christmas Tale," which screened here Friday morning.

Considered one of the top directors of his generation in France ("My Sex Life ...Or How I Got Into An Argument," "Kings and Queen") but little known in the U.S., Desplechin has created a multigenerational drama around a gorgeously fractious family that comes together for a memorable Christmas week reunion, a film that critics here are comparing to a Gallic "Fanny and Alexander."

"Christmas" stars Catherine Deneuve as the family matriarch; Mathieu Almaric, a Desplechin regular and the star of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" in a spectacular role as her son the rotten apple; and Deneuve's daughter Chiara Mastronianni as a daughter-in-law.

But the real star here is director/co-writer Desplechin. His zest for self-aware language and surprising structure, his passion for finding new ways to tell old stories are exhilarating. Unexpected but still made
squarely in the French humanist tradition, this is a film you don't want to see end, not because the people are so happy but because they are so human and so alive.

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo courtesy Cannes Film Festival