Stephanie Sottile’s 31 Days Of Christmas – Day 4: Christmas, Again
Finally! A movie I have not seen before (and no, I am not counting that Bill Murray one-hour long tryptophan dream because it’s best if we all forget that happened). This is one of the few selections that I found searching through Netflix’s holiday films (yes, because I got lazy in my research. Big whoop, want to fight about it?). Christmas, Again is a patiently paced indie film that strongly reminded me how important patience can be from your audience…because you will need a good amount of it to stay tuned in to this one, which is not necessarily a negative aspect.
First off, the film has no plot; there is no central driving action that drives the characters. We simply see a few days in the life of Noel, a down-trodden young guy from upstate New York who spends the month of December living in a trailer in New York City to sell Christmas trees. The film takes almost an agonizing amount of time establishing this character’s life, even down to the camera angles. It makes use of a lot of close up shots of mundane activities Noel may do: putting on gloves, eating an apple down to the core, buying energy- efficient light bulbs and reading the package…there’s a few full minutes of these shots and it isn’t quite clear why until the last third of the film as to why that was effective.
We also meet other characters who work with Noel: Nick and his girlfriend who live in the trailer and take opposite shifts of Noel. What I appreciated is the subtly in the establishment of their relationship growing: during Noel’s shift one day, he finds them sleeping on the bed. The next day while they’re sleeping, he finds them with their arms around each other. And finally, after that, the girlfriend mentions to Noel how they’re moving into her sister’s house and “no more trailer!” It may seem simple to do, but a lot of films don’t realize that overdoing the explanation of characters can sometimes come off as if you’re talking down to the audience, which this film doesn’t do.
Throughout the 78 minutes, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another indie film in which “nothing happens:” Tiny Furniture. This indie film by Lena Dunham (before Girls fame) was just that: a few days in the life of a confused girl who has graduated college and is living with her neurotic mother and uptight younger sister. And similar to Christmas, Again, she took her time to establish what her current life looked like and why she may be unhappy with it, so when she decides to do something out of her daily routine, as a viewer, you become invested in seeing where this decision might take her. So, still not necessarily a plot device…just another part of the few days we’re seeing from her life.
This moment happens when Noel finds a girl passed out on a park bench and decides to bring her back to his trailer so she won’t freeze. The very next morning, however, she just…leaves. There is no fanfare, no heartfelt conversation, no dramatic retelling of why she was even on the bench…she just leaves and Noel’s daily life continues as normal (as we’ve seen so far in the film). The routine is usually as follows: Noel explains how to care for the tree to a customer; Noel reprimands the couple for not doing a task correctly; Noel sleeps and wakes up for his next shift; Noel explains how to care for the tree to a—you get it, life goes on as normal. And suddenly, since the movie does a solid job of establishing what the norm is, when the girl comes back, the viewer becomes invested because this is different and breaks the monotony. Any tedium the viewer may have been feeling from the first half of the movie is always mirrored in what Noel feels because he goes through this routine every single December…until now there’s a girl in his trailer who is thanking him for letting her stay and she is bringing him a homemade pie as a thank you in a specially decorated pie tin her mother made.
Unfortunately, it’s also that same pie tin that will cause a great deal of pain soon. In the middle of the same routine we’re treated to, a male customer comes by to purchase a tree and some lights and wants to make sure they work, so Noel brings him into the trailer to test them. The customer notices the pie tin and Noel informs him a girl make a pie for him. The customer leaves, seemingly on edge, but nothing further…until that same man comes back, perhaps a day later, to punch Noel in the head and run off, leaving Noel understandably confused. It’s at this point, the film makes use of the score to start to show how the tedious routine is affecting Noel: his sleep is becoming more and more erratic, his explanation of how to care for the trees is becoming fuzzy and unfocused, and the music becomes jarring and upsetting. And just like before…this halts once the girl from the bench drops by again to scold Noel for telling her boyfriend they “hooked up.” It seems like this punching customer has a bit of a jealousy problem…someone might want to wrap some “calm the fuck down” and leave it under his tree this holiday.
Noel decides to bring her along for the delivery of some of the Christmas trees and the pace of the movie quickens as we see his behavior become a bit more cheery interacting with the different customers, and at the end of the night, like most strange love stories, should end with a kiss in the trailer…
…except it doesn’t. The girl just leaves after the kiss. Exactly like before…she leaves and that is where the film leaves us from Noel’s life.
FINAL WORDS: I always have a soft spot for these types of indie films- where they rely on the words not being said to build a story rather than what can actually be written into the script. I feel like it can allow for moments to be created that couldn’t have been done otherwise if just focused on text: the music, the lighting, or the camera angles can create emotional reactions within the viewer so you still get a sense of a rich film even if nothing is being said. I still would’ve liked there to be somewhat of a resolution at the end, even if it was to see Noel’s full reaction when the girl left, but since this film strayed from the normal aspects of a movie for most of the film, I didn’t expect the ending to be any different. So, if you have patience and don’t mind a feeling of “unfinished,” then add this one to your list for Santa.