Christmas Present (1986)

I stumbled upon Pupi Avati's Christmas Present (Italian: Regalo di Natale) last year while I was looking for non-idiotic Italian Christmas movies —we have plenty of those as we get new ones every single year— but at that point I already had picked some other non-English language movies so I postponed the watch to this December. 

Set on Christmas night, the film follows a group of old friends, Franco (Diego Abatantuono), Ugo (Gianni Cavina), Gabriele (Alessandro Haber), and Stefano (George Eastman), as they reunite after a very long time to play a poker game, which used to be their tradition. It's not nostalgia that brings them back together, but the opportunity to rip off a rich and mysterious industrialist (Carlo Delle Piane). 

Although there's quite a surprising twist at the end, the plot is very simple, almost non-existent as the poker game is pretty much all that happens in the film. To be honest though, I'm not even sure what the story is about. I'm sure it's not about friendship, nor about the vicissitudes of life. And, unlike the title suggests, it certainly isn't a feel-good Christmas story. Maybe it's about envy, or about revenge, or about a friendship turned sour because of betrayal. I'm not really sure. What I do know is that the story is compelling enough to keep you interested, and one of the reasons for that is the past being slowly unveiled —which caused an inner conflict in me as I felt like the use of flashbacks to explain the reason of resentment between Franco and Ugo messed up a little with the smooth flow of the present-day storyline but, at the same time, I can't think of a better way to reveal it.

The other reason Christmas Present is as compelling and effective as it is is the characters. While the female characters are barely a sketch, the five poker players have a really nice characterization and development. They all are human beings as they have both positive qualities —very few of those— and many flaws. No matter how flawed they are, they are so fleshed out, we get to know them so well, we care about them. Well, most of them as one as one has no reeding quality whatsoever, he's just an asshole —I won't tell you which one as it would be a major spoiler.

The actors do a nice job, the standouts being Diego Abatantuono who gives a solid performance as Franco, the debt-ridden movie owner who can't move on as he's still in love with his first wife, and, especially, Carlo Delle Piane who gives a calm and yet unsettling performance as the mysterious industrialist/lawyer.

As for the direction, I liked the close-up of the table and players but Avati failed to deliver the tension a poker game is supposed to make you feel.

1 comment :

  1. You give a compelling review but still not sure I will see it