Vet scripter Daniele Thompson (“Cousine cousine,” “Queen Margot”) makes the leap to helming with “Season’s Beatings,” an enjoyable, if lightweight, ensembler penned with her son. Heavy on personal foibles, sexual peccadilloes, holiday nostalgia, regrets and resentment, comedy follows the various members of a Parisian family over four eventful days before Christmas. Pic’s greatest pleasures are in its thesping; the all-star cast puts across an elaborate, if often predictable, mosaic of human behavior. Pic has done tidy local business since opening in late November, and offshore tube sales should be brisk for this quintessentially Gallic tale with universal overtones.
Following the Dec. 21 funeral of her second husband, Yvette (Francoise Fabian) is comforted by her three grown daughters from her first marriage to Russian-Jewish violinist Stanislas (Claude Rich). The eldest, Louba (Sabine Azema), who lives with her father, carries on the musical tradition by singing crowd-pleasing bohemian standards at a Russian cabaret; Sonia (Emmanuelle Beart) is a perfectionist bourgeois housewife; and the youngest, Milla (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is a hard-charging businesswoman with a tomboy demeanor.
After 12 years of trysts with married lover Gilbert (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), Louba unexpectedly finds herself pregnant for the first time at 42. Also around is Joseph (co-scripter Christopher Thompson), a slightly mysterious unemployed young man who has a 5-year-old daughter by his ex-wife, Annabelle (Isabelle Carre), and lives in a workshop in Stanislas’ courtyard.
As the holiday countdown proceeds, Louba grapples with her unsatisfactory status, Sonia incorporates some daring behavior into her last-minute shopping, Milla and Joseph begin a wary acquaintance, and a health-related incident makes the grumpy Stanislas rethink his aversion to Christmas dinner with the family. As former husband and wife, Rich and Fabian share a terrific scene when they meet for the first time in 25 years.
Mostly, pic bounces from one piece of crisis-fueled shtick to another as characters reassess their lives and relationships, spurred on by the gap between the warmth and harmony the holidays are supposed to represent and the chaotic reality of their situations. Still, despite the reigning atmosphere of antagonism and emotional subterfuge, script is basically humorous — starting with the ringing of the deceased’s cell phone as his coffin is lowered into the grave.
Several characters recite monologues directly to camera (which creeps forward into tight close-up) and Azema hams up her Russian cabaret act to the hilt. Otherwise, pic’s visual package is as straightforward and traditional as any standard TV show. Lensing is merely adequate and editing often wobbly. French title is a term for a traditional log-shaped frosted cake served at Christmas.