The cinema of Arnaud Desplechin is a literary one, insofar as his sprawling, multi-character, usually family-oriented films seek a richness, complexity, and scope reminiscent of grand novels. A Christmas Tale is no different, a drama about the holiday gathering of the Vuillard family that’s at once quite confined in terms of focus, and yet wide-ranging with regards to both its narrative concerns and emotions. Co-written with Emmanuel Bourdieu (with whom the director also collaborated on Esther Kahn), Desplechin’s opus is, in terms of basic subject matter, rather conventional, as it’s a star-studded Christmas saga in which a fractured family reunites under the shadow of their matriarch’s impending death. Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is dying of a rare cancer that can only be treated through a painful (and potentially lethal) bone marrow transplant from a matching donor, of which she has two: her grandson Paul (Emile Berling), recently out of a psych hospital after a breakdown, and her middle child Henri (Mathieu Amalric), a reckless, selfish prick estranged from the family for six years thanks to a decree by his elder sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny). Their gathering rekindles old tensions as well as sparks a few new ones, which also come to involve younger brother Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), his wife Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni), cousin Simon (Laurent Capelluto), and dad Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), a bevy of characters whose motivations and feelings for each other are intricate and contradictory, sometimes to the point of obscurity. Such mild inscrutability is occasionally trying, yet the cumulative effect of Desplechin’s plotting – in which myriad sentiments and relationships are tied up like a Christmas present bow – is to force constant, pressing engagement with his story. As such, A Christmas Tale’s expansive stew of physical and psychological illness, death, betrayal, longing, religion, and ritual ultimately proves invigoratingly lush, a work of outsized ambition that, enlivened by Desplechin’s deft melding of the grand and the intimate, leaves one feeling, as all Christmas films should, pleasurably stuffed.