Of Time and the City: The first masterpiece of Cannes 2008.
Of Time and the City: The first masterpiece of Cannes 2008.

Best of all so far is A Christmas Tale, in which Kings and Queen director Arnaud Desplechin takes his career-spanning interest in family and its discontents to (literally) the cellular level. The movie takes place during the chaotic holiday reunion of a sprawling French clan whose matriarch (a regal Catherine Deneuve) has recently been diagnosed with degenerative bone cancer. A marrow transplant is her only hope of survival; children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews are all potential donors. Unlike the frequent Hollywood variations on this story, however, the looming specter of death does not serve as a panacea for the healing of old family wounds. It is, instead, a reason to pick away at old scabs, to dig toward the very DNA of human relations. In the tragicomic universe of this immensely gifted filmmaker, there are no givens: Parents may secretly (or openly) resent their children, siblings may banish one another from the family nest, attempted suicide and institutionalization may pave the way toward reconciliation. Some have already hailed A Christmas Tale as Desplechin's Bergman film, his Fanny and Alexander. But it is also close to Balzac, with whom Desplechin would almost certainly agree that "we exaggerate misfortune and happiness alike. We are never as bad off or as happy as we say we are."

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