Reviewed by: George Williamson

Every family Christmas has it's ups and downs. Dad burns the turkey, Mum drinks too much sherry and the twins run around until they pass out - happy festive times! However, at the bungalow, in which Gregory King's film is set, we're in for an altogether darker holiday season.

Five days before Christmas, Kiri arrives home to find his family in fairly high spirits. Everyone seems genuinely happy to see one another and, for the first day, everything goes well. The siblings don't bicker and, even though you can see that conversation is steered away from certain areas, everybody seems to be having a good time. On the second day, people begin to open up and lay into each other properly, remembering why they only come together for five days a year. By Christmas Day, things have completely fallen apart; one sister is tripping on E the other has bleached her hair bright blonde and become estranged from her husband and Dad's run over the cat. And I haven't even gone into what happens to the brothers...

The characters are, at once, recognizable for their sins. From the alcoholic brother-in-law to the suicidally withdrawn sister, everyone is portrayed excellently, especially the central protagonist Kiri (David Hornblow), whose laconic and quiet demeanor makes his occasional bouts of insane laughter all the more affecting. Dialogue is often minimal, striving for realism; they say nothing, because there is nothing to say, causing a voyeuristic feeling, as you view with fascination this intimate portrait of a family.

Shot entirely digitally, King manages to use the medium perfectly, adding to the feeling of suburban seediness and heightening a sense of alienation. It's often reminiscent of Thomas Vinterberg's Festen and the uncomfortable humour makes it seem like Irvine Welsh's Kiwi Christmas carol, a bleak, yet comic look at life.

A black comedy, blended with a enough tragedy to be genuinely upsetting at times, Christmas manages to be a truly captivating and rewarding experience.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2003
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A dysfunctional New Zealand family Christmas.

Director: Gregory King

Writer: Gregory King

Starring: Darien Takle, David Hornblow, Helen Pearse Otene, Matthew Sunderland, Tony Waerea

Year: 2003

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: New Zealand


EIFF 2003

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