Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" wears its thumping, bustling heart on its sleeve. Fashioned out of the melodramatic stuff that usually floats the overtly sentimental narratives of a Lifetime Channel movie, this is a movie that shouldn't succeed. Yet, by the end, I was fully enraptured by its energy, heart and abundant chemistry. Told in flashback as to how young Jamal (Dev Patel) rose from the trash-littered slums of India and ended up one question away from winning millions of dollars on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, "Slumdog Millionaire" carries over Boyle's eclectic filmmaking sensibility and thrashes that pulsating style against a story with genuine emotional oomph. Savage in just the right places (when depicting the violent and poverty stricken underbelly of India) and heartbreaking in others, this film reminded me of the cathartic tug of war that Spanish director Julio Medem often employs in his films about soul mates treading place and time. Still, the less you know about "Slumdog Millionaire" before going in, the better off you'll be when it reaches its ebullient home stretch. I loved this movie. And it features the best closing credit sequence of the year.
A Christmas Tale
The new king of the 3 hour French talkie (after "Kings and Queens" and "My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An Argument"), Arnaud Desplechin's latest film, "A Christmas Tale" isn't exactly the warm and fuzzy holiday treat the title alludes to. The setting is that holly-jolly time of year, but the film is more interested in the volatile feelings that rise up when one large family gets together for that holiday. Messy, convoluted and seemingly shot like a teenager just discovering the tricks of the trade such as nouvelle vague jump cuts, iris wipes and split-screen, "A Christmas Tale" covers more ground in its first ten minutes than most films in their entire running time, playfully charting the lineage and tragic medical history of the Vuillard family. As mother, Catherine Denevue is stoic. Her three children, prone to in-fighting which leads to the banishment of younger brother (Mathieu Amalric) by his sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigney) over some muddled financial swindle, finally emerge under the same roof for Christmas with the news that mom is dying of a rare blood disease. Also thrown into the mix is another brother named Ivan, (Melvil Poupard), a suicidal nephew (Emile Berling) and a cousin (Laurent Capalutto) who has never gotten over his lost love, now married to Ivan. Desplechin cooks up a huge helping of bourgeois malaise as these characters interact, fight, laugh and rekindle old flames. But, as with all of Desplechin's films, even though the plot threatens to overrun the connectivity to his audience, he handles the whole affair with a deft touch, striking sense of humor and a bracing affection for his whirlwind cast. "A Christmas Tale" is certainly a film to admire, if for nothing more than observing the light and idiosyncratic touch that Desplechin applies to well-worn archetypes.