Sunday, January 04, 2009

Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon, Class of 2008: Emmanuelle Devos in A Christmas Tale

I always have a problem with deciding whom to write on for StinkyLulu's most prominent of blog-a-thons, the Supporting Actress Blog-A-Thon, mainly because most of the "big" (read: Oscar) movies have yet to arrive on these shores and contenders are usually plucked from them. So who to choose? After seeing The Reader yesterday I briefly considered Lena Olin, but I decided I just didn't love that performance enough; and the National Society of Film Critics' pick of Hanna Schygulla in The Edge of Heaven reminded me of just how great she, and indeed the film, were. (And let's not forget Hallam Foe's Claire Forlani, who I almost wrote about last year too...) But there's always been one actress in the forefront of my mind for this honour.

I first came across Emmanuelle Devos in Arnaud Desplechin's superb Kings and Queen a few years ago, and it's with Desplechin she reunited this year for the role I have chosen to highlight...

Faunia in A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noël)

Faunia is not actually a member of the family who reunite for Noël; she is the lover of eldest son Henri (Mathieu Almaric), who is somewhat of a black sheep and has actually been banished from his sister Elizabeth's (Anne Consigny) life. Faunia is somewhat reluctant to accompany Henri- whom she hasn't exactly been with for very long- to his family Christmas (particularly since she's Jewish), but accompany she does, and her somewhat looser attitude to life helps skew the family just that extra bit.

The entire cast of A Christmas Tale is terrific- it's a true ensemble piece- but Devos, intentionally, stands apart from the pack. The part seems to rely in part on Devos' natural charisma- the screen seems to get jolted, just a little, everytime she appears on screen. Faunia isn't, outwardly, bothered by the company forced upon her- you imagine she is acting how she would act anywhere else, not caring what the family think of her. Nevertheless, all this could make Faunia a cold, unattractive character, but Devos takes the material she is given and shades it beautifully. Observing the family, Devos gives just a hint of wistfulness- the idea that somewhere inside her is a wish for more closeness that she grants herself. The interaction with Henri, once they reach the family home, is surprisingly limited, lending evidence to the idea that this is not a relationship based on anything much at all. She treats his wilful impulses with an impassive role of the eyes. Faunia leaves on Christmas Eve, leaving Henri with just a kiss on the cheek.

Devos' most prominent scene- and, indeed, the one that got her this post- comes when Faunia goes shopping and walks around an art gallery with the family's matriarch, Junon (Catherine Deneuve). [IndieWire helpfully provides a tidbit of this scene.] The pair discuss Junon's family- and toss off things like "I always wondered what he [Henri- her son!] was like in bed"- with almost disinterested flippancy as they try on dresses and examine paintings. But it's in the art gallery where Devos shines- you see, all at once, her outsider status, her unrivalled comprehension of the complicated family, and her hidden wistfulness for something more. Faunia never says that Henri and she have no future, but Devos knows she knows it, knows that although she may want closeness, this is not the family she'll develop it with. As an outsider- the only true one, since the other siblings are married with children- Faunia is the only one who can reflect objectively on how the family functions, in traditionally dysfunctive fashion. Devos plays the part with subtlety, but also demonstrates a thrilling charisma- which, when up against French legend Deneuve, is quite a feat, and makes one wonder why she's isn't more beloved than she is.



hear hear. DEVOS is an amazing screen presence in everything and she's really wonderful here in this small role.

p.s. also love your banner. Hee

J.D. said...

I am so thankful I was able to watch this last week and not, like, five months from now. Technology kicks ass.

I loved Devos, though I'm sorta happy I saw Kings & Queen beforehand so I had in mind what that woman can accomplish. My favorite of the women was Anne "Not Emmanuelle Béart" Consigny, tho. ;)

Also, OMG, you saw Grave of the Fireflies?!

Dave said...

Nat: Glad you like the banner! One of my few inspired moments.

J.D.: Bea- Cosigny was indeed very good, but I think she might have been a lead? From my tangled memories.

And yes! I was already in a down mood so watching that was probably inadvisable, but 'twas very beautiful. I <3 Setsuko.

J.D. said...

I'm pretty sure I consider everyone in the film supporting - Almaric and Deneuve included - but I think arguing her as a lead makes sense. At least a little.

And yay! For my money it's the most depressing film ever made. :)