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A woman and her seven children live on a farm in Southern France. In spite of the hard work and the mediocre accommodation, their life would be a happy one, but for one person: the owner of the farm an egotistic and authoritarian individual, who is also the lover of the woman and the father of all her children. The farmer handles them as his property, uses them as cheap labour to work in the fields, and denies them the right to leave the farm. It is only the love of the woman for her children that allows them to endure their situation; but even for her, disenchantment has set in.Written by
Eduardo Casais <email@example.com>
On the face of it, the life of The Mother and her children might seem tough but idyllic, working hard on a provincial farm, part of a loving family, happy in their own solidarity and inventiveness. Even at the family's lowest ebb, when the alternative of living in a cramped council flat is seriously mooted, The Mother can say, at least you live in the country.
But WILL IT SNOW FOR CHRISTMAS is no unthinking pastoral of blazing sun, beautiful countryside, and hearty rustics. In a world where the neverending sun is a dangerous, oppressive glare, where the land is a bleak, uniform, thoroughly mastered mistress demanding constant attention, where the locals are mean-minded, avaricious bigots, this is pastoral as Bresson might have made it, beating down on its characters, loveless, thankless, relentless.
The image of wholeness and harmony that opens the film, though hard, is deeply schismatic. As they are constantly reminded, the children are the illegitimate offspring of The Father who houses them in a seemingly pleasant farmhouse, with no sanitary or heating amenities, while he exploits them as cheap labour with his two older, 'legitimate' sons, living with his own family who are ashamed of the 'b-----ds'. Initially, he seems tough but fair, a loving father, but as the film wears on, the extent of his cruelty becomes apparent, never melodramatised, rooted in the rural French values of land, greed, sexual desperation and exploitation.
CHRISTMAS is rare in showing a world of work. When you think about it, it's strange how something so completely fundamental to our lives, our identities, our social, economic and political relations is so absent from our films. With the hardly typical exception of policemen, the world of work only acts as a handy character signifier, or, at most, a setting for plot. But it's never simply represented as itself.
Here we get lingering sequences of pure work, and we see its truth, how, for most of us, its thoughtless repetition deadens us, mechanises us, makes us mere animals, brooding and resentful, ready to lash out at whoever we feel is to blame for it, leaving you so tired you can't even read at night. The film is not entirely successful here - my dad came from blighted farming background, and his grim experiences don't really find any correspondances here. But work is an extraordinary revealer of character, and in a film full of quiet, insightful observations of The Mother, a woman of so much love she is in danger of losing it, the most powerful is related to work, after she's discovered The Father has made a pass at her daughter - she sits alone, bowed, under a purple twilight, beside a truck of randomly strewn fruit crates.
So the images of wholeness and authenticity we idealistically associate with the countryside are actually riven with schism. The film describes two worlds - that dominated by The Father, one of virtual slavery (the casting of Daniel Duval, director of LA DEROBADE, an exploitative study of female degradation, is surely no accident), grind, abuse, as inexorable as the seasons; and the indoor world of the family, privileged, remarkably, considering things, still full of love and optimism.
There are brief moments of epiphany throughout, when the relentless 'realistic' visual register is suspended by something more subjective, a space untouched by Father and work. This culminates in the magical Christmas climax, as we see, framed in the darkness, behind a small barred window, an ambiguous image of family: on the one level cramped, imprisoned, shrouded, isolated; on the other harmonious, loving, a source of light and communication, a world of dream and stories that contrasts with Father's exploitative world of mechanical human relations.
The exquisite Joycean epiphany of snow is similarly double-edged - is it dreamt or real?; either way, the problems aren't resolved - the children might be saved, but she is trapped behind the window, alone but secure. This lovely film, never as depressing as an outline of its story might suggest, full of an animating camerawork that belies its characters inability to move, is very similar to Lynne Ramsey's later RATCATCHER, but, while its stylistic tastefulness means it never risks Ramsey's glaring lapses, its reserve means it doesn't quite capture her haunting poetry either.
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