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Watch: What’s at the Heart of the Sadness of Christmas Movies? A Video Essay

Watch: What's at the Heart of the Sadness of Christmas Movies? A Video Essay

This touching and wise new video essay made for Criterion by Michael Koresky and Casey Moore highlights an idea which you’ll see plenty on the news but highlighted very little on the streets: that the holidays are not, necessarily, happy times for all. In fact, the pressure  to be happy, to be cheery, to celebrate, to gather with others, to bloviate on “the milk of human kindness” may make some of us want to crawl into bed and stay there for several days, getting up only to open the blinds, look out at a populace buying unnecessary mittens to the (weird) tune of “Santa Baby,” and then go back to bed, pondering what stores might be open, what take-out options will be available on this holiday when so many businesses are closed and when human commerce, indeed, seems to close up like a shell for 48 hours or more. Too bleak? Okay, sure. In any event, these two film scholars extraordinaires have gathered a collection of movies that celebrate the dourness of the holiday in melancholy writ large. The three they choose to focus on, out of a list that includes Fanny and Alexander, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Gremlins, Metropolitan, and Eyes Wide Shut, are remarkable documents of yuletide emotional froth: Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine, a tale of coming of age admist financial desperation set in Quebec; Eric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s, a story of sexual and moral temptation set on a snowy Paris Christmas night; and Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, which concerns that famed institution of the holiday season, the family gathering–with many twists. Throughout the essay, we see one gorgeous, haunting scene after another: snow-filled, empty streets; huge apartment buildings checkered with glowing signs of absence or presence in their half-off, half-on windows; ice-covered countrysides with one or two figures running across them. The accumulation of these images serves to remind us of an intelligent point which Koresky and Moore make in the film, which is that the holiday season is as much about absence as it is about presence, and it’s important to give both parts their due.

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