French Tale presents Christmas miracle in reverse

The rich, demanding French film 'A Christmas Tale' doesn't let the holiday spirit steamroll its insights into family dynamics and medical issues.

In Christmas movies, the spirit of the season inevitably trumps the personal conflicts that bedevil the characters. Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale feels like a yuletide miracle in reverse: Christmas remains in the background, no match for the wrenching problems yet stubborn togetherness of the Vuillard family.

Matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve, the de facto first lady of French cinema) discovers that she has a terminal illness and a transplant may be the only means of saving her. Two possible donors may be her alcoholic, contentious middle son Henri (Mathieu Almaric) and her troubled teenaged grandson Paul (Emile Berling). Any transplant carries the risk of “graft vs. host” disease, in one of the film’s many medical metaphors for the paradoxes of family life. Can’t live with them, can’t live without their bone marrow.

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