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December 19, 2008

A Christmas Tale (2005)

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Cuento de Navidad
Paco Plaza - 2005
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

Taking place in 1985, Paco Plaza's film takes some of its cues from the films he watched as a twelve year old boy. The story of five friends, four boys and a girl, takes some of its inspiration from The Goonies and Explorers. One of the boys tries to model himself as the Catalan version of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. Plaza's film, part of of a Spanish television horror series, goes in a much darker direction. There is some similarity to Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive regarding the myths created by movies and how children respond to that mythology. The behavior of the children also may remind some of Lord of the Flies.

The five children find a woman, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, trapped in a pit in the woods. An attempt to rescue the woman ends when two of the boys, ignored by a policeman too busy discussing Christmas dinner with his wife, discover that the woman is wanted for robbery of two million pesatas (roughly ten thousand dollars). There is discussion about whether to still turn over the woman to the police for an unstated reward, or try to claim the stolen money for themselves. Only the girl, Moni, feeds the woman, Rebeca, when she can, with soda and packaged pastries. Two of the boys decide to turn Rebeca into a zombie on Christmas Eve, attempting to duplicate the instructions from a character from a favorite movie. When Rebeca is found lifeless a few days later, a policeman is brought to the scene where she was found, only the pit is empty of evidence that someone was there.

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The real horror of Plaza film is the cruelty of the children towards Rebeca. Plaza contrasts the comfortable life of the children in their bedrooms during a rainy night, with Rebeca, hungry in the pit with a broken leg. When Rebeca seeks her revenge, it is almost a distaff version of Night of the Hunter, the tensioned heightened by the shadowed faces of the children, trapped in a disused amusement park. A brief shot of a Disney type castle in the background is a reminder of the connections between dreams, fairy tales and nightmares.

Hopefully, Plaza's most famous film to date, (Rec) will be available to judge his work better. If there is another incentive for seeing his Christmas Tale, it is for the participation of young Ivana Baquero. Best known for her performance as Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth, Baquero will soon be making her English language debut opposite Kevin Costner in a film by Luis Berdejo, writer of Plaza's film. Plaza's Christmas Tale doesn't aspire to the visual or metaphorical heights of Erice or Del Toro, but on its own modest terms is an effective little thriller that reminds the audience that monsters are often other humans.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 19, 2008 12:41 AM