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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • L'aimťe, Desplechin's 2007 documentary about the selling of his family home
  • New documentary featuring interviews with Desplechin and actrs Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve
  • Original theatrical trailers

A Christmas Tale

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Arnaud Desplechin
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny
2008 | 152 Minutes | Licensor: IFC Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #492
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: December 1, 2009
Review Date: November 24, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

In Arnaud Desplechin's beguiling A Christmas Tale (Un conte de NoŽl), Catherine Deneuve brings her legendary poise to the role of Junon, matriarch of the troubled Vuillard family, who come together at Christmas after she learns she needs a bone marrow transplant from a blood relative. That simple family reunion setup, however, can't begin to describe the unpredictable, emotionally volatile experience of this film, an inventive, magical drama that's equal parts merriment and melancholy. Unrequited childhood loves and blinding grudges, brutal outbursts and sudden slapstick, music, movies, and poetry, A Christmas Tale ties it all together in a marvelously messy package.

Forum members rate this film 6.2/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Making its debut on Blu-ray through Criterion, Arnaud Desplechinís A Christmas Tale is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p.

The DVD edition looks strong but this high-def version clearly blows it out of the water. Sharpness and detail is vastly superior here, more than I had actually expected. Grain is much more noticeable and also much more natural looking. Colours were also strong on the DVD but theyíre a bit better here, specifically reds. Black levels also look a little deeper and bolder. Skin tones look natural but again, like with the DVD, they can lean a little towards red on occasion but I suspect this is intended. The print is in perfect condition as far as I could see, with no noticeable flaws or marks.

A rather large improvement over the DVD, Iím happy Criterion came to their senses and released the film on Blu-ray along with the DVD (the film was originally announced as DVD only.) It looks quite striking.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The Blu-ray presents the film with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. Itís a noticeable upgrade from the DVDís Dolby Digital track in that it sounds a little crisper, more natural, and bass is a tad more effective. But itís certainly not a dazzler, remaining front heavy, only creeping to the backs on occasion (though the back speakers are a little more noticeable when compared to the DVDís track.) But itís sharp, presents crisp dialogue and music. Itís subtle and overall quiet but effective for the film.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This is where the disc disappoints. Criterionís DVD and Blu-ray for Gomorrah (another new film licenced from IFC Films) wasnít up to the level of Criterionís strongest editions but it still offered a rather full platter of strong supplements. Unfortunately this release offers only a couple and is still priced higher. The features are all found under the ďSupplementsĒ section.

The big feature, and the best one on here, is LíAimťe, a 2007 documentary by Arnaud Desplechin. Reading the brief synopsis on the back of the DVD package, which indicates this film is about ďthe sale of [Desplechinís] family home,Ē I canít say I was looking forward to it. Thankfully itís much more than that and at an hour (66-minutes to be more precise) it actually feels too short. Narrated and ďhostedĒ (I guess you could say) by Desplechin, the documentary, that doesnít feel at all like itís a documentary, begins by stating that his father is selling the family home. Desplechin then more-or-less interviews his father, going through family photos, talking about his fatherís mother, who died from TB when he was very young. It ends up becoming quite an engaging piece and a decent examination of family and memories. And as I said it doesnít feel at all like a documentary at all thanks to Desplechinís style. While this may seem like an odd inclusion for the set it actually is a perfect addition; after watching A Christmas Tale you can see LíAimťe as a lead-up to that film, covering some of the same themes, but also containing some of the same stylistic choices including framing and use of music. An excellent documentary and a great inclusion.

The only other big supplement is an exclusive making-of put together by Criterion called Arnaudís Tale. Running 36-minutes it gathers together director Arnaud Desplechin, and actors Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric. Itís a decent piece, covering the filmís production in a decent amount of detail. A good chunk of it focuses on the characters and the family, the presentation of them, and their issues, plus the actors talk about their roles in particular. Desplechin does talk about the influences (Midsummer Nightís Dream and the film Only Angels Have Wings, though no mention of The Royal Tenenbaums or Saraband, both of which he mentioned in an interview I read) and also talks about his style of filmmaking. He has a majority of the segment, with Amalric and Deneuve disappointingly receiving less screen time. The two speak fondly of the director (and Desplechin likewise speaks fondly of his performers) and mention what attracts them to his films. There was surprisingly very little about Deneuve, but both Amalric and Desplechin talk quite a bit about their working relationship. Itís unfortunate Criterion couldnít get the three to do a commentary, even if they were all recorded separately, as that probably would have been a little better. Itís a good piece, worth watching and offers some decent insight into Desplechinís work, but I guess I felt it wasnít as focused on this particular film as I would have liked.

The disc then concludes with two theatrical trailers, the original French trailer and then the American trailer. The American trailer is rather awful, enhancing the filmís more quirky elements, possibly trying to sell it to a more hipster base. The French trailer captures the film a little better.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray release (and all Blu-ray titles from Criterion) is the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu, or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film and can be used to jump through chapters. You also have the ability to ďbookmarkĒ scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button. This is a common tool found on Blu-ray and HD DVD titles but Iíve always liked Criterionís presentation.

The accompanying booklet comes with a nice essay by critic Phillip Lopate that covers the film and Desplechinís body of work. Itís a pretty decent read, though must admit I was a little taken aback when he compares the film to The Family Stone.

Unfortunately lost is the cute chapter menu presentation, which presented chapters in the form of an advent calendar (see the DVD review for more details.) Instead Criterionís Blu-ray sticks to the usual bland presentation that lists the chapters in the fly-out menu.)

And thatís unfortunately it. I understand $39.95 is the standard price for Criterion Blu-rays but considering the limited number of features I do find this one particularly overpriced, similar to how I feel about the DVD edition. The features are decent, but at only 106-minutes worth of material itís a bit of a letdown.

6/10

CLOSING

Similar to how I feel about the DVD the Blu-ray is disappointing. The transfer looks absolutely incredible and it sounds good, but the small list of supplements do make this release feel a little overpriced. I can give it a mild recommendation (a better one if you can find it really cheap.)


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