‘Tis the season of heartwarming holiday movies featuring cute kids, Santa Claus, and the joy of the season. The French film Santa Claus (Le Père Noël), available this Christmas season on VOD, fits these criteria, but in a bit of a twisted way.
Six year-old Victor (Victor Cabal) writes his letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. He wants things most kids want, but more than anything, he wants a ride in Santa’s sleigh. That night, after he’s gone to bed, he hears a noise on the balcony, and there is Santa (Tahar Rahim), who has just descended by rope.
Victor is beside himself, but Santa tells him to go back to bed. But when Santa then drops down to the next floor down, Victor follows. It turns out that the “Santa” is a burglar hitting empty apartments on Christmas Eve, looking for enough gold to pay off a debt to a thug. He tells Victor his sleigh is broken down and he needs gold to make it fly. Victor is eager to help. When Santa gets injured, he teaches Victor how to break into apartments and where to look for gold. They spend the night traveling around the rooftops of Paris and trying to avoid the thugs.
It turns out, though, that Victor will not be satisfied unless he can get that ride in Santa’s sleigh. It is important to him, because there is a special trip he wants to make. He is grieving his father and wants to go to his father’s star to see him.
As the night advances, Victor becomes more and more aware that what they are doing is wrong. He begins to doubt that this is the real Santa Claus. His doubts increase his grief, now having lost both this father and his ideal of Santa. Yet as befits a holiday movie, the interaction between Victor and Santa changes them both. These are the most important presents these two will receive this Christmas.
I can understand how some people might be a bit offended by the way Victor is corrupted in the film. Not only is he taught how to burglarize a home, but Santa encourages him to swear. (Victor is not quite as innocent as we might think.) But that is the way this film seeks to bring some darkness into the holiday story. And without darkness, we may never realize when the light begins to shine. And the interaction between Victor and Santa as the night progresses is, in the end, a star shining in the darkness.
The holiday spirit celebrated in this film is not really holiday specific. Christmas Eve is the setting for telling a story of the encounter between two strangers, and the way the faith of one can transform them both.
Photos courtesy of Under the Milky Way