A Christmas Tale – My second Arnauld Desplechin film in a week, and I think I preferred the other (Kings and Queen), though I did like this a lot. He’s clearly a master at the film-as-novel, a genre of film that doesn’t get made much because it’s oh so hard to do correctly (Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise is my favorite film of this type). It requires a director willing to be both patient enough to allow the characters to develop slowly without ever letting the narrative feel like it’s moving slowly. Having a cast full of great actors helps a lot, and I was glad to see most of the cast from Kings and Queen show up here: Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Devos, Jean-Paul Roussillon (who shined in a small role in the other film and equally great in a larger one here as the father) and Mathieu Almaric, who I’m now convinced is one of my favorite actors working today. Desplechin uses a grab bag of cinematic tricks (irises, direct address, narration, flashbacks), but his style never felt flashy to me; it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but instead serves to make the narrative more engrossing. The #3 film of 2008.
Morvern Callar – OK, so despite my decade-plus aversion to what I thought was the essential nature of Lynne Ramsay’s films, this isn’t depressing at all. I won’t believe that about Ratcatcher, however, and I don’t think the Dardennes have a chance with me yet either. Anyway, I did like this quite a bit. What is it with Scotland and amoral anti-heroes with great soundtracks? I don’t know, but this totally reminded me of early Danny Boyle, namely Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. The colors are terrific (so much red!), and Ramsay uses blinking lights in the corner of frames as well as I’ve ever seen. I thought the plot, such as it is (a woman’s boyfriend kills himself at Christmas, so she takes credit for the novel he wrote and goes on vacation to Spain with her best friend), was kind of gimmicky and not really believable, but I didn’t really care that much. Interesting that Morvern never really does anything that’s technically immoral, if you assume there’s no afterlife. The #5 film of 2002.
Friday Night – My first Claire Denis film, and while I liked it, I don’t think I fell in love with it in the way a lot of other people did. It’s got the second best traffic jam in film history, and a wonderful dreamlike quality with a few magical moments thrown in and just enough rewinding to make you unsure of whether what you’re seeing is “really” happening or not. I understand the conceit of the two main characters (who meet in the traffic jam and spend the night together) never interacting verbally in a way that reveals anything about themselves, revealing their personalities instead through action, but I don’t know that I liked it. It created an emotional distance that for me precluded the kind of romantic feeling the film seemed to be going for. The #14 film of 2002.