Byline: Michael Wilmington Contributing film critic
The Vuillards at the center of Arnaud Desplechins superb new film, "A Christmas Tale" are a bourgeois French family, boisterous and lively on the surface but seething with dark secrets, resentments and little tragedies underneath. And their Christmas gathering this year, in Desplechins radiantly smart French-language film, is probably the fieriest theyve ever had.
Mama Junon (played by Catherine Deneuve, still a knockout at 65) is suffering from leukemia and needs a bone-marrow transplant the same leukemia that, decades ago, killed her first son Joseph and started a chain of family guilts and angers that lasts to this day. Papa Abel (the wondrously troll-like Jean-Paul Roussillon) is a dye-maker much older than his dazzling wife, an earthy old soul who seems almost out of place. (Did Michel Piccoli sneak in and beat his time?)
Henri (the often-seen Mathieu Amalric of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") is a scapegrace theater guy, drunk and womanizer, despised by his elder sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny). Hes been long isolated from her and most of the family, but hes here, partly because his blood type matches his mothers and hes attending with his fiercely proud Jewish girlfriend Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos). Elizabeths husband, Claude (Hippolyte Girardot) hates Henri, and their emotionally fragile son Paul (Emile Berling) complicates matters: He also matches blood types with GrandMere Junon.
Youngest son …