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.