17 April 2005 | ctodd1000
Note: This review is from someone at Amazon.com, and HAD to be placed here! Thanks to "Glutton for books"
My favorite holiday movie for modern times!, February 1, 2005
Reviewer: Glutton for books - See all my reviews
The first time I watched "La Buche," was a few days before Christmas in 2000, when I was not able to visit the family for Christmas. I saw it with a French friend who was not able to go home either. It is an absolutely delightful French movie about the pressures associated with the holiday season, with thought -provoking characters. Much of it will make you laugh, but I hesitate to define it as a comedy, because the term implies a simplicity which the film exceeds by including many dramatic aspects of life; chief of these are questions of identity, what makes us happy in life, and who are family and what are they for.
The core of the plot is members of a family spending the Christmas together, who have not shared a Christams celebration in many years. La Buche refers to a type of Christmas cake often eaten in France during Christmas. For the uninitiated, the French please excuse my description, it resembles a large Liitle Debbie Swiss roll. The characters of the film, like family life, are full of unexpected surprises.
Yvette, mother of the family is grieving from the loss of her second husband, and the film opens at a funeral. Her deceased husband was a musician, as was her first husband. The person may have died but it seems that the jealousy lives on. The father of the family, Stanislas, is the mother's first husband. He usually spends the Christmas alone with his favorite daughter, Milla, believing that it should not be an stressful time for him because he is Jewish, trying unsuccessfully each year to avoid the pressure associated with the holiday and its memories of its painful past, such as when he left his life in Russia behind as an child immigrant with no possessions. This year he takes a different approach to Christmas, due to a near death experience, the recent widowhood of Yvette, and determination to make amends for mistakes from his past.
Neither parent was a perfect spouse, but the children (who are grown adults) have varying perceptions of who is the better person. There are three daughters: Milla views her mother with contempt, Sonia faults the father, and Louba seems equally devoted to both.
Sonia and Milla seem the epitome of success; one with an apparently ideal marriage and family, one with a thriving career. The other daughter, Louba, appears to be the least ambitious and successful in life. But what really constitutes ideas like ambition, success, and happiness? How should these values to be qualified? What guarantees do we have for stability in life in our pursuit or implementation of such qualities? Apparently, one of Stanislas' most cherished Christmas memories was when as a poor child he received one simple toy, and the gift of a safe place to spend the night.
In addition to the traditional family, there is Joseph a boarder to whom Stanislas rents his former music studio, and who has a young child from a previous marriage and desperately wants to spend Christmas with her. Joseph rushes Stanislas to the hospital and saves his life; a service which makes the daughters curious to learn more about him and his life.
To delve too much into explaining the characters of the film, gives away much of the film's surprises that make it so enjoyable. In true form to good characterization, no one is exactly whom they first appear to be, and learning who they really are is the best part of the viewing experience.
There is much stress during the holiday season to pretend that life is working out according to plans and that you are happy, because it is a time for celebration. Even those who are not formally religious experience this pressure during the holiday season.
This movie examines that phenomena and makes you feel that you are not an anomaly for feeling tension associated with encountering family during that time of the year. By the end of the film, you feel it is okay to admit the problems that pretension of perfection exerts on your life, even if it is Christmas. In fact, the film teaches that the ability to share your imperfections and sorrows, as well as your hidden aspirations is part of what constitutes a family, and exercising this ability cements your familial relations for the better. Despite the gravity of the characters' problems and conflicts, this is ultimately a great feel-good film, that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.