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  Santa Claus is a Bastard Blue Christmas
Year: 1982
Director: Jean-Marie Poiré
Stars: Anémone, Josiane Balasko, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Clavier, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte, Bruno Moynot, Martin Lamotte, Jacques François, Michel Blanc, Michel Bonnet, Claire Magnin
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's Christmas Eve and in Paris, things should really be settling down in time for the festivities tomorrow, but for the suicide hotline run in the city, things are only heating up. For a start, one man, Felix (Gérard Jugnot), dressed as Santa Claus to advertise a strip club is a kleptomaniac and runs his own personal riot through the streets, lifting whatever he can and taking it home to his pregnant wife Josette (Marie-Anne Chazel) who he does not so much have a love/hate relationship with, more a hate/hate one. She is friends with Therese (Anémone) who works at the hotline, and will soon be paying her a visit, along with the furious Félix and a transvestite (Christian Clavier).

The transvestite, Katia, does not know Félix and Josette, he forces himself to be invited to the office of the hotline because he is insulted at home (they call him Charles Bronson), and staffer Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) is too soft hearted to turn him down. Apart from friendly, foreign neighbour Mr Preskovic (Bruno Moynot), who arrives bearing the gifts of revolting food he insists are delicacies local to his point of origin, that was your cast, a seven-person comedy troupe who had enjoyed great success with the original play of this (what they wrote) on the stage. The obvious path to take after that, so they thought, was to turn their comedy into a film, and the results became a cult movie.

In France, that was, as outside of that nation more people would be familiar with the remake, Mixed Nuts, a Steve Martin vehicle from Nora Ephron that was a rare flop from her as she could not find the right tone to pull this one off when the source material was not so much warm, wacky, seasonal comedy, more pitch black, take everybody down with scathing humour. The fact it was set at Christmas made it all the more bad taste, at a time when not taking Yuletide seriously was not so acceptable as it is now, though in the twenty-first century it would offend probably because of its treatment of suicide, homosexuality and indeed what the characters get up to at the very end.

Some members of this troupe would go on to very successful careers and even be identifiable outside of France, but there were no real superstars among the cast. Nevertheless, they were all very adept at inhabiting their characters, and managed to sell the bad behaviour (or simple, thoughtless behaviour) with the requisite degree of energy to sustain the wildly variable conceits for the whole of the hour and a half running time. All that said, just as Le Grande Vadrouille is one of the biggest Gallic comedies of all time without making a huge impact in many other places, and when you watch it if you're not French you may be wondering what the appeal was, likewise here the potential to have you rolling on the floor laughing may not come to fruition. Was something lost in translation?

That might have been the case when there was a lot of worldplay here (Chazel's character mixes up her words for comic effect, for instance), but the jokes did not stem solely from what was being said, and the tirade of blue language that regularly erupted (the hotline does not always receive calls from those truly in need, let's say) was not something where the gag was lost at all. Yet the obvious glee the cast-writers had in breaking taboos was not always impressive to the audience at this remove, some of it was laugh out loud funny, that was accurate, but for too much of the time it was a shade too pleased with itself at how daring it was trying to be. You can imagine this would have gone down a storm on the theatrical stage, sort of a pantomime for grown-up Parisians, and some of that was apparent in their movie, the energy that had gone into keeping the balls of the plot juggling in the air. But for many stretches, it was just balls. Still, the solution to a dead body that leaves the characters at the zoo was like nothing else in cinema, so there's that. Music by Vladimir Cosma.

Aka: Le père Noël est une ordure
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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