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Review: 'A Christmas Tale'

This French dysfunctional-family epic is gabby and self-indulgent.

By Peter Rainer / November 15, 2008

Mathieu Amalric as Henri and Catherine Deneuve as Junon in A CHRISTMAS TALE directed by Arnaud Desplechin.

Courtesy of Jean-Claude Lother / IFC Films

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Adherents of overrated writer-director Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" have been praising it as "novelistic." What does this mean exactly? That it's layered, psychologically rich, bursting with narrative? I'd be more inclined to call this French dysfunctional family epic gabby and preeningly self-indulgent – in a word, annoying. Catherine Deneuve plays a dying matriarch whose search for a compatible family donor for a bone-marrow transplant unearths untold infighting. Deneuve is at that point in her career where she doesn't need to do anything except look world-weary in order to invite acclaim. She's the matriarch not only of this impossible family but also of French cinema. As the family black sheep – and that's saying something – Mathieu Amalric is the best reason to see this movie. But maybe not all 150 minutes of it. Grade: C+ (Unrated.)

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