Sunday, January 04, 2009

Emmanuelle Devos Engages A Christmas Tale

For Stinkylulu’s 3rd Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon, I'll single out the lovely, wise work of beautiful Emmanuelle Devos in A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noel). I didn’t find Arnaud Desplechin’s lengthy comedy/drama detailing the joys and sorrows facing the Vuillards as engrossing as many critics, but as Faunia, the girlfriend of Henri, the family’s troubled, outcast son, Devos made me sit up straight wondering “Wow, who is this incredible lady?” as I tried to place that glorious face from other films. I couldn’t, and watching the bemused, statuesque beauty magnetically hold my attention despite all the dramatic fireworks surrounding Faunia reminded me of the first time I viewed Sophia Loren in El Cid, and understood exactly what the term “star quality” meant on the big screen. It doesn’t hurt that, along with her relaxed-yet-stunning presence on film, the enchanting Devos appears to be ageless- while watching the film I placed her as a twenty-something newcomer to film. Reviewing Devos' career accomplishments, I found she’s been acting in movies for over twenty years, establishing herself as a major force in French cinema, winning several international film awards in the process, including a Cesar Award for her work in 2001's Sur mes levres.

I can understand the accolades- in this Tale, Devos gives an exquisitely understated performance, radiating a warmth onscreen that serves as a perfect, calming counterpoint to the irascible Henri’s frequent outbursts during their holiday visit at the Vuillard’s. There’s a great moment when Henri acts up at the family’s dining room table and gets throttled by his brother-in-law for his obnoxious behavior, and Devos does a wonderful, unexpected thing in the mist of this family turmoil- she starts laughing in a quiet, gentle manner. The obvious response would be to express shock and dismay at Henri’s plight, but Devos' reaction really grabs the audience's attention, allowing them to comprehend Faunia as a perceptive, intelligent woman who understands Henri and accepts his unruly behavior as part of their relationship- Faunia knows Henri has his knockout punch coming, but she alone has the sense to see the humor in the situation, while Henri’s family is mortified by his ill temper.

She has two more sequences that stand out as highlights- in the first Faunia shops with Junon, the Vuillard’s matriarch. Junon happens to be played by Catherine Deneuve, and watching these two goddesses casually interact makes one dizzy from the remarkable onscreen presence conveyed by these elegant women. Later, there’s an extremely touching moment wherein Paull (Emile Berling), Junon’s introverted, sensitive grandson, is dismayed to hear Faunia’s leaving to spend time with her own family. Paull watches as Faunia prepares to leave; however, before reaching the front door she turns, then gives the infatuated boy a penetrating look. Asking if Paull has a pen, Faunia returns to the youth and takes his purple felt-tipped marker, then draws a small heart near his palm, before she finally departs with Henri. The Vuillards may have seen the last of Faunia (who can tell where her relationship with the unpredictable Henri is headed?), but the viewer senses Paull will never forget this graceful, captivating woman. Neither will anyone who watches A Christmas Tale.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Devos is always something special in movies. She's even greater in KINGS & QUEEN (another Desplechin picture) -- i had to hand her a silver medal for Lead Actress in 2005 for that one.


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