Amalric on home ground at Cannes in family drama

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Mathieu Amalric, soon to be seen as the latest James Bond villain, returned to more familiar territory at the Cannes film festival on Friday in a family drama that has been hailed by French critics.

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“Un conte de Noel” (“A Christmas Tale”) by director Arnaud Desplechin tells the story of a family brought together one Christmas to try to overcome the sibling rivalries that have fractured their relationships.

Together with “Three Monkeys”, a Turkish film that tells a much bleaker story of family secrets, A Christmas Tale struck a more personal note in a festival so far dominated by political themes ranging from war in Lebanon to prison hunger strikes.

The film has already attracted very favorable advance notices in the French media and there was a gushing series of questions for director and stars including Catherine Deneuve at the post-screening news conference.

Amalric, a major French star whose role in the upcoming James Bond adventure “Quantum of Solace” is sure to build his international profile, had his first big part in Desplechin’s 1996 film “My Sex Life...or how I got into an argument”.

He still appears more naturally in tune with Desplechin’s literate, questioning style than an international action franchise like the Bond series.

His character is involved in a fight and does fall flat on his face at one point, though that prompted a more philosophical response than one might expect from the successor to other Bond foes like the steel-toothed Jaws or the sleek Ernst Blofeld.

“Falling is very important in Arnaud’s films,” he mused. “It’s a feeling, an impulsion. That’s acting, I think. You have some people walking, some people falling.”

This time he plays Henri, the charming, feckless middle brother in a family still shadowed by the death decades earlier of an eldest child who suffered from a rare cancer.

The illness re-emerges, this time affecting their mother, played by Deneuve, who is forced to seek a donor in a family divided by a bitter feud between Henri and his elder sister Elizabeth, played by Anne Cosigny.

But despite the sombre subject, the mood of the film is far from grim and both illness and arguments are treated in a light, often humorous tone with the kind of sentimental and erotic complications beloved of French cinemagoers.

“I have trouble painting everything black. The title tells you, it’s a tale,” Desplechin said.

One of three French films in the main competition lineup, A Christmas Tale is much lighter than “Three Monkeys” by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

The film gives an unsparing account of a family crushed by unspoken secrets after a chauffeur agrees to go to jail in place of his powerful boss but then suspects his wife of adultery.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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