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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
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


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
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #492
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: December 1, 2009
Review Date: November 19, 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 6.7/10

 

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PICTURE

Arnaud Desplechinís 2008 film A Christmas Tale is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Itís a newer film so I wasnít surprised by the quality of the picture. Colours are vivid and bold, beautifully saturated. Some reds show some compression issues, but otherwise colours are all beautifully rendered. Black levels are strong and skin tones look pretty natural, maybe a little more reddish on occasion (could be intentional to the look, though.) The image is crisp and detailed with excellent definition. Compression artifacts are noticeable but not overly heavy. The print is in pristine condition, as I pretty much expected.

Itís at about the level I would have expected for a newer film from Criterion, sharp and clear, with lovely looking colours. Quite nice overall.

8/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly 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 film presents a subtle, crystal clear Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track. It sticks primarily in the fronts, with a few effects and some music sneaking to the rears with some decent, noticeable splits. Dialogue and music are both strong and crisp, thereís a surprising amount of range, and bass is adequate. Other than a couple sequences itís not an overtly dynamic track but it has a few surprises to it.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This is where the disc disappoints. Criterionís DVD for Gomorrah (another new film licenced from IFC Films) wasnít up to the level of Criterionís strongest DVDs 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 on the second dual-layer disc.

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.

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.

(Iíll briefly mention the chapters menu, which are fairly cute. The chapters are presented as an Advent Calendar, the kind where you pull flaps up with each passing date. The flaps are closed but when you highlight a chapter, the flap opens, displaying the chapter index and name. Certainly nothing groundbreaking, but I thought I would mention it.)

And thatís unfortunately it. I understand the release is two discs, and Iím glad Criterion decided not to jeopardize the image quality of the feature by keeping the extras off of that disc and placing them on the second disc, but itís still a sparse selection of supplements, altogether barely running 106-minutes, and the price does seem a little steep. The couple supplements we do get, though, thankfully are quite good.

6/10

CLOSING

Itís disappointing for a two-disc set. The transfer is more than fine, looking quite sharp and crisp, but the supplements, though quite good, are slim. I can give the release a mild recommendation (a stronger one if you can find it cheaper) but must express a little disappointment in it because of the selection of supplements.


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