Review: That Time of Year
by Fabien Lemercier
- Denmark's Paprika Steen directs and stars in a very effective bittersweet family comedy on the universal theme of celebrating Christmas
When your "old" mother leaves you a message when you've not quite made it back from your summer holiday yet, wanting to know where and how the family Christmas is going to be organised this year, you already know a lot is at stake. This eminently universal topic, sitting somewhere between a comedy and drama, is the focus of the Danish actress Paprika Steen’s third feature film, That Time of Year [+see also:
film profile], 11 years after With Your Permission [+see also:
film profile]. Unveiled at Toronto (in the Contemporary World Cinema section), a box-office hit in Denmark and featured in the Playtime programme at the 10th edition of Les Arcs Film Festival, this 24-hour immersion into the heart of an almost inevitable ritualistic event – where even the slightest shift can result in serious antagonism – delves into a very marked terrain of archetypes and identification, but with enough address, tender irony and quality performances to assert itself as a finer and more accomplished version of the traditional Christmas comedy.
After nine voicemails open the film very effectively, with snippets of information about the main characters, the plot kicks off on the morning of Christmas Eve in Katrine (Paprika Steen) and Mads' kitchen (Jacob Lohmann), a couple still very much in love and the happy parents of two children: the young Jeans-Peter (Mikas Maximus Dalhoff Christiansen) and the teenager in crisis Maria (Fanny Leander Bornedal). They are expecting both sets of grandparents for dinner that evening: the divorced Gunna (Karen-Lise Mynster) and Poul (Lars Knutzon) on Katrine's side, and the solid and discreet Marianne (Bodil Lassen) and Eigil (Hans Holtegaard) on Mads's side. Katrine's sister, Barbara (Sofie Grabøl) also makes an appearance, along with her husband, Torben (Lars Brygmann) and their tyrannical son, Adam (Sofus Sondegaard Mikkelsen). Poul's new partner and daughter drop out at the last moment, but some surprise guests soon turn up: the third sister, Patricia (Patricia Schumann), accompanied by her new partner, Bo (Jakob Randrup) and her youngest daughter, Lea (Troja Reppien Trovatten). A total of 14 characters therefore partake in an evening rich in events, amusing twists, character traits, shared pasts, annoyances, jealousy, love, regret, secrets, hypocrisy, revelations, old wounds, reconciliations, sermons, songs and gifts, all of which keep the wheels turning (with a good dose of alcohol to stoke the flames and a blizzard outside to ensure no one can leave) on a very solid script written by Jakob Weiss. And obviously, nothing is as it first seems...
Despite not revolutionising the genre, That Time of Year is a very enjoyable film, playing with clichés without giving up the minimum psychological complexity needed and addressing its subject matter through comedic devices (which often hit the mark), while aptly addressing numerous "serious" themes (what does the family unit consist of these days? What kind of education do children need? What self-esteem do we have beyond the “social mirror”?) through a Danish microcosm that will resonate with most. This film, without doubt, encapsulates the magic of Christmas...
(Translated from French)
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