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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Christmas, Again’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Christmas, Again'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Christmas, Again”
Dir: Charles Poekel
Criticwire Average: B

A mood piece that pays attention to the details, Charles Poekel’s feature debut “Christmas, Again” follows Noel (Kentucker Adley), a melancholic New York Christmas tree vendor during the holiday season. It’s the first year he’s doing the job alone as he has recently broken up with his girlfriend, but we never find out why. Poekel focuses squarely on Noel’s loneliness during the holiday season, and it’s this straight-ahead minimalist approach that makes “Christmas, Again” stand out from the pack. A gloomy look at the holiday season, “Christmas, Again” gets at what makes Christmas a uniquely sad holiday, and how the coldest nights can remind you the strongest of how you’re truly, deeply alone.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Charles Poekel’s moody, perceptive drama, about a Christmas-tree vender named Noel (Kentucker Audley) on duty in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is built from the avid accretion of alluring details. Audley, the actors Hannah Gross and Dakota Goldhor, the cinematographer Sean Price Williams, and the editor Robert Greene are independent-scene powerhouses who infuse the film with aestheticized spontaneity — a blend of documentary nuance and dramatic invention. The melancholy Noel, reeling from a breakup, works the night shift. The upside-down hours, the stresses of managing his inexperienced associate (Jason Shelton) and coping with his demanding boss (Bennett Webster), and his uneasy rest in a cramped trailer fray his nerves. When Noel rescues a drunk young woman (Gross) from the nighttime chill, his good deed becomes a burden as well. Poekel zeroes in on the power struggles of work relationships as well as on the salesman’s peculiarly intimate, one-sided glimpses into his customers’ lives. The hard-won consolations of seasonal sentiment emerge in the searching performances as well as in the impressionistic handheld images. Read more.

Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

But this is a film of process, mood, tempo and even suspense. (Noel will have to pay for any unsold trees.) The writer and director, Charles Poekel, a cinematographer making his feature directorial debut, opened a stand of his own partly for research. As the title suggests, “Christmas, Again” is concerned with how the holidays are, for some, a time of lonely resignation. (Sporting a green winter jacket, Noel sometimes looks ready to camouflage himself in his merchandise.) The cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, shoots on 16-millimeter film, suffusing the film with wintry colors and, at times, visible grain. This is a Christmas movie in which magic exists largely on the periphery, and that is just the right mix of chilly and sweet. Read more.

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club

The temptation to court viewer sympathy by making Noel an overt sad sack must have been great, but Audley mostly resists, creating a portrait of a guy doing his best to stave off uncomfortable feelings by concentrating on the job at hand. (Watching Noel huddle up close to a space heater in his trailer, or try to find the person who ordered the tree in the middle of a jam-packed house party, it’s easy to tell that “Christmas, Again” is rooted in personal experience.) Instead, Poekel, working with cinematographer Sean Price Williams (“Listen Up Philip,” “Heaven Knows What”) and editor Robert Greene (director of last year’s “Actress”), conveys a melancholy mood by juxtaposing Noel’s professional stoicism with the warmth radiated by various happy couples shopping for a tree. Most of these minor characters are seen only once, but make a strong impression nonetheless, and Audley somehow manages to suggest a churning sea of stifled emotion without telegraphing Noel’s envy and longing. Each fleeting connection just seems to underscore how alone he is, making Lydia — despite her being a nearly total stranger — seem that much more important. Read more.

Peter Debruge, Variety

Efficiently trimmed by editor Robert Greene (“Listen Up Philip”), the pic’s charm comes from its moments of unforced naturalism: little observations about the way people behave, paired with details and anecdotes that Poekel himself lived during his years operating McGrolick Trees, the same stand where the film was shot. Poekel describes this approach as “Method writing,” though most people would call it research. This specificity gives the film texture, from the way Noel wraps and prepares the trees for sale to the night a synthetic blanket catches fire and nearly burns down his caravan, while an almost allergic resistance to melodrama keeps the experience feeling real, rather than sappy — which is more than can be said of the hundreds of dead trees he sold to get this movie made. Read more.

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