It is a given that the holiday season is one of the most stressful times
of the year, especially having to cope with familial duties, the hustle and
bustle of shopping for presents and food, and the intense preparation of the
perfect meal. In the USA, we tend to think we have a monopoly on that kind
of stress, but as screenwriter Danièle Thompson proves in her directorial
debut, the sentiments are universal.
Taking its title from the traditional buttercream frosted Christmas cake
decorated like a log, La Bûche centers on what can only nicely be termed a
dysfunctional family. The parents, Stanislas (Claude Rich), a sickly violinist
of Jewish descent, and Yvette (Françoise Fabian), a retired actress, are
divorced. Their three daughters all have problems of their own.
Forty-something Louba (Sabine Azéma) sings traditional songs in a Russian
restaurant and finds herself pregnant by her married lover (Jean-Pierre
Darroussin) who keeps promising to leave his wife but doesn't. Middle child
Sonia (Emmanuelle Béart) appears to have it all, with a beautiful house,
two children and a wealthy husband, but despite her Martha Stewart-like
veneer, her life is falling apart. The baby of the bunch, computer expert
Milla (Charlotte Gainsbourg), resents the holidays preferring to wallow in
what Sonia terms a "hostile holiday depression." Added to the mix is
Stanislas' new tenant, Joseph (Christopher Thompson, the director's son
and the co-author of the screenplay), who also is undergoing his own
familial crisis: he has separated from his wife who has had a child by
Beginning with the funeral of Yvette's second husband a few days
before Christmas and concluding four days later on Christmas Eve, La Bûche
is a warmly comic look at the foibles of human nature. Thompson occasionally
opts to have some characters address the camera directly while delivering
monologues that give the film an added theatrical flair. While the device is
jarring, it doesn't hurt the flow of the story.
The true joy of the film is in the performances. As the curmudgeonly
Stanislas, Rich is terrific and he and Fabian share a beautifully rendered
reunion scene that encapsulates their character's shared histories. Azéma is
fine as the cabaret performer who figures out one of the family secrets while
Béart makes the seemingly shallow and spoiled Sonia palatable. Gainsbourg
(who resembles a young Margaret Hamilton) delivers an exceptionally fine
turn as the moody Milla while Christopher Thompson excels as the mysterious
Danièle Thompson's direction is fine, although she fails to establish a
unified visual approach to the material. The movie begins with a witty credit
sequence filled with holiday decorations and crowded streets but in later
scenes the editing and cinematography sometimes undermine the scene's
intentions, partly due to the ensemble nature of the film. In attempting
to give equal time to each of the major characters, Thompson sometimes
cuts away too soon or allows a sequence to go on too long. She does,
however, use the music on the soundtrack quite well, employing Michel
Legrand's original score interspersed with classic Christmas songs as well
as traditional Yiddish tunes. For a first-time directorial effort, La Bûche has
a great deal to offer particularly in its fine performances.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 106 mins.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.