Le Père Noël est une ordure

As much as I loved Christmas and all the magic that came with it as a child, I’ve now turned into Mr Scrooge, as I can barely hide my contempt for the über-commercialised, in-your-face festivities.

I especially empathise with the staff at big supermarkets and department stores having to endure Christmas carols being played over and over, and the indignity of having to wear those silly hats.

A movie that utterly embodies my feelings towards Christmas is the dark French comedy Le Père Noël est une ordure (Santa Claus is a bastard), which I tend to watch religiously every year on Christmas Day.

Le Père Noël est une ordure

It’s one of those films you want to watch more than once, because of its rich dialogue. Each time, you discover something new: a nuance, a subtle joke.

Some of the jokes are quintessentially French and therefore untranslatable, but the situations and the characters are hilarious in themselves.

Originally a theatre play created in 1979, the film, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré, wasn’t a big hit when it was first released in 1982, but over the years it has earned cult status. And rightly so: it is pure genius.

The story takes place on the night of Christmas Eve and it revolves around two clumsy, respectable characters – Pierre and Thérèse – volunteers at a telephone helpline for lonely and depressed people, and their two opposing characters – Félix and Josette – a ruthless, dispossessed couple.

Then there’s the stern Madame Musquin, also a volunteer, who intends to go home and celebrate Christmas with her family but gets stuck in the lift and calls for help by blowing on a toy trumpet she finds in one of her shopping bags.

In the meantime, the Bulgarian neighbour, Mr Preskovic, keeps bringing traditional homemade cakes as gifts to Pierre and Thérèse, who struggle not to spit them out in disgust.

Last but not least – the icing on the cake – we have Katia, the gleefully depressed transvestite who falls in love with Pierre.

The opening scene sets the mood of the film rather nicely. Shot outside a busy department store in Paris, it shows Félix, the ruthless crook, dressed as Santa, handing out leaflets for a strip club in Pigalle. When a naughty boy tries to grab one of the flyers and pulls his fake white beard, Santa slaps him hard in the face, to the dismay of the child’s parents.

From then on, there isn’t a dull moment in the whole film.