'The Long Yule Midday Meal' would be the literal translation of the title for this Swedish-language production of 'The Long Christmas Dinner', one of Thornton Wilder's more obscure plays. All of Wilder's plays feature some distortion of reality -- even his very conventional work 'The Matchmaker' depicts characters speaking directly to the audience -- but 'The Long Christmas Dinner' is surreal even by Wilder's standards.
The play depicts 90 years in the span of a typical American family (the Bayards) by the clever device of their annual ritual: the family's Christmas dinner, which is basically unchanging every year, with only the ages of the individual participants in flux. The play lasts roughly as long as an actual holiday dinner, yet we are aware of the decades passing. Family members grow old as the dinner progresses, children becoming adults, and elderly participants leaving the table (in death) while new members (becoming born) arrive at the table to replace them.
Several characters in this drama have catchphrases or mannerisms which they repeat over and over. This is partly a device to enable the audience to keep track of them, but it's also Wilder's way of showing us that these people don't change: they merely get older. As in Wilder's best-known play 'Our Town', those who have departed the Bayard family's table (through death) are still among the living in memories.
This crude low-budget TV production is shot in one continuous take by a camera retaining a single viewpoint. Normally, this 'nailed-down camera' technique is unpleasant, and implies a low budget or a lack of imagination on the part of the director. In this production, for once, the device works very well. By keeping the camera at a constant viewpoint while the actors 'age' by gradually changing their movements and speech patterns, we are more aware of Wilder's compression of time than we might have been otherwise. I had some difficulty following the Swedish actors' dialogue -- partly my fault, partly down to the poor sound recording -- but I'll rate this teledrama 7 out of 10.
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