Released in January and wrapped up in familial cancer, depression, discord and advanced statistics, this is not your average Christmas Tale.
But then it’s French, so be prepared too for a bellyful of self-absorption, pretension and Gallic wit (i.e. rudeness).
Drama comes naturally to the middle-class Vuillards, and just in time for Christmas mum Junon (Deneuve) is diagnosed with the same rare blood disease that killed her first-born.
She needs a marrow donor. But much to the consternation of her responsible daughter Elizabeth (Consigny), the only compatible family members are Elizabeth’s schizophrenic teenage son and her self-destructive brother Henri (Amalric).
Elizabeth and Henri fell out years ago. But circumstances dictate that Little Miss Sensible and Bad Bad Black Sheep bury the hatchet long enough to make the Yuletide get-together tolerable for everyone else: bemused dad Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), Henri’s new girlfriend, youngest brother Ivan (Speed Racer’s Melvin Poupaud), his wife (Chiara Mastroianni), their twin sons, and an artistic cousin.
Unfortunately, Henri can’t help himself from spoiling the party. Mistaking brutal honesty for charm – another trait inherited from his mother – he is a drunken, selfish, attention-seeking bore.
As the week wears on, the rest of the clan become equally trying. There’s even a lesson in probability from Elizabeth’s mathematician husband (Hippolyte Girardot), who calculates that Junon will be fine for a while without a transplant.
Ironically, Deneuve looks healthier than everyone else, floating above the melodrama with trademark detachment. If only the audience could do the same.
Desplechin wastes a quality ensemble, as what could have been a pithy, festive Festen is turned into New Year leftovers by flat characterisation, pointless stylistic tics (direct addresses to camera throw viewers out of the story, not draw them in) and sheer self-indulgence.
At a bum-numbing two-and-a-half hours, the film does at least have one thing in common with other Christmas visitors - it long outstays its welcome.