La Buche Starring Emmanuelle Beart, Sabine Azema and Charlotte Gainsborough. Directed by Daniele Thompson.
Rated 4.0 Since La Buche acknowledges Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters as a source of inspiration, it might also look like a reversal of the recent trend of Hollywood doing its own Americanized remakes of assorted successful French films. But Daniele Thompson’s sprightly family drama is neither rehash nor remake. It has the feel of a completely original work, fully realized and with an integrity all its own.

Like Hannah, however, Thompson’s film has three sisters trying to get their somewhat fractious family together for a holiday gathering. The sisters (French stars Emmanuelle Beart, Sabine Azema, and Charlotte Gainsborough, in this case), each with an edgy personality somewhat at odds with those of the others, are trying in particular to finagle their parents, who have been divorced for more than 20 years, into attending the gathering together. That Dad is Jewish and Mom is Catholic is just one of the provocative complications in the mix.

What results is a comedy of considerable emotional substance, with break-ups, reunions, revelations of family secrets, ongoing family quarrels, and moments of painful truth cropping up all around. Beart, Azema, and Gainsborough give charmingly diverse renditions of the sisters’ various neurotic quirks, but the best performances come from veterans Claude Rich (as the friskily prankish father) and Francoise Fabian (as the tough-mindedly passionate mother).

While Mom and Dad go tête-à-tête on their respective sex lives apart from each other, the sisters are variously navigating assorted break-ups, uncertain love affairs, and unraveling marriages. As such, La Buche is a kind of brutally honest bedroom farce, less frivolous than soberly free-spirited. The title refers to a traditional Christmas cake, but there’s nothing sentimental or sloppy about the film’s pre-Christmas sentiments.