The Films of Arnaud Desplechin
The Life of the Dead (June 25/17)
Arnaud Desplechin's first film, The Life of the Dead follows a large assortment of family members as they gather in a country estate to await news of their suicidal cousin (who is currently laid up in a nearby hospital). It's a stripped-down premise that's utilized to consistently underwhelming effect by writer/director Desplechin, as the first-time filmmaker suffuses the spare narrative with a rather unwieldy number of scarcely-developed characters - with the script reducing the plentiful protagonists to their most basic personality traits (eg there's the friendly yet intimidated outsider, the sardonic, vitriolic misanthrope, etc, etc). There is, as such, never a point at which the viewer is wholeheartedly (or even partially) drawn into the less-than-eventful proceedings, with the hands-off vibe compounded by Desplechin's head-scratching decision to imbue all of these people with far-from-likable attributes (ie they're all sarcastic and completely apathetic). And although the movie runs a brief yet overlong 54 minutes, The Life of the Dead ultimately boasts the feel and tone of an often egregiously mannered and ill-conceived student film (ie it's remarkable that Desplechin went on to any career whatsoever after this amateurish mess).
Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle)
Playing "In the Company of Men"
Kings and Queen
A Christmas Tale (November 26/08)
Though it boasts some seriously impressive visuals and a string of impressive performances, A Christmas Tale ultimately suffers from a middling midsection that's been suffused with pointless digressions and melodramatic crises - which effectively cancels out the enthralling and thoroughly promising opening half hour. The film - which follows the members of the Vuillard clan (including Mathieu Amalric's Henri and Anne Consigny's Elizabeth) as they reunite over the holidays amidst the news that matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has recently been diagnosed with leukemia - certainly benefits from Arnaud Desplechin's dense, almost novelistic approach to the material, as the director infuses the movie with an audacious sensibility that proves effective in initially capturing one's interest (ie characters narrate their own backstory directly into the camera). It's only as the various Vuillards begin to congregate that A Christmas Tale slowly-but-surely begins to lose its momentum, with Arnaud's penchant for soap opera-esque plot developments exacerbated by his reliance on needless instances of quirkiness (ie Junon wonders what her own son is like in bed). The inclusion of a silly yet oddly compelling love triangle - which, it's revealed, has its origins in the trio's teen years - proves to be a minor highlight within the disastrously overlong production, while the talented cast does manage to periodically elevate the movie out of its egregiously theatrical doldrums. In the end, A Christmas Tale essentially comes off as a standard, almost generic take on the dysfunctional-family-reunion genre - with the film generally unable to separate itself from such underwhelming similarly-themed fare as The Family Stone and Home for the Holidays.
My Golden Days