From the second that Emily Browning stalks into Jamel Debbouze’s sepia-soaked Parisian hovel apartment, blue Gitane smoke curling from her lips, his expression says it all – he’s hit the jackpot. That she then eviscerates him at the point of eliciting the confession she sought leaves the audience somehow feeling that it was still a worthwhile encounter for both parties and probably the best Christmas Eve he’s enjoyed in years. Emily plays exquisitely expensive call-girl Ambergris, gradually working her way up the tiers of a Sicilian crime family in a Collateral-esque ascension of revenge on Christmas Eve in snow-blanketed Paris. Starting at the very bottom of the chain with smack-junkie Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), she progresses onwards and upwards through several other encounters including jittery family lawyer Leland Orser and first son of the family, cocky party boy Vincent Cassel, Ambergris loves them and leaves them regretting the ghost of Christmas past. There should quite clearly be no Christmas bonus for this crime family’s events organizer as each rendez-vous becomes one precision bloodbath after another. Pursued by dour detective Cedric (Moritz Bleibtreu), who would rather chase the ginger bread crumbs left behind at each murder scene than spend Christmas with his family, there are hints at the tragedy that befell Ambergris’ barely newborn daughter (the titular Noël) shown via flashbacks. Expectant mothers are advised to avoid at all costs.
In the same way that Jean-Pierre Jeunet managed to romanticise Paris in Amélie’s heightened palette, Besson drains La Cité of all but the most pertinent touches of colour leaving it resembling a lost Art Nouveau newsreel from the early 1900’s. Long time collaborator Eric Serra has often included sleigh bells in his scores (see Goldeneye and The Professional) and here is given free rein to do so again, if you’ll pardon the pun. Performances are strong albeit in some cases borderline typecast (Debbouze and Orser) with only one minor criticism that Browning perhaps lacks the gravitas of a grieving mother that Uma Thurman aced previously. Without giving away the ending, this Gallic take on Kill Bill results in a climax with patriarch Christopher Plummer reinforcing to his erstwhile daughter-in-law that, for good or for bad, Christmas is about family first and foremost.
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