Director Alexandre Coffre is playing it safe with Le Père Noël, a Christmas film with definite shades of the US hit Bad Santa which had Billy Bob Thornton as the criminal who dresses up as Santa Claus to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. After last year’s disappointing Eyjafjallajokull, Coffre aims straight for the heart with the tale of a petty thief (Tahar Rahim) who bumps into a young boy Victor (Victor Cabal) on Christmas Eve while he is breaking into his apartment. Add music which echoes the score of the classic Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, and Le Père Noël ticks all the boxes for a sure-fire seasonal hit. But despite the abundance of Christmas lights and snowy rooftops, there is no Christmas magic here and the film leaves as much of an impression as the proverbial snowflake on a hot stove.
Father Christmas (Rahim), all kitted out in a red Santa suit and sack bulging with presents, is getting on with his job of breaking into rich people’s apartments and stealing their jewellery when he is suprised by Victor (Cabal) who believes he has met the real deal. Victor has already handed over his Christmas list to his mother, but what he really wants is a ride on Santa’s sleigh so he can travel to the stars and meet his father. And he is determined to stick with Father Christmas until he is granted his wish. Fake Santa’s initial reluctance to take Victor with him on his illegal activites is overcome when he realises the boy has a natural talent for breaking and entering. The unlikely duo team up for a night the young Victor – or Santa – will never forget.
Le Père Noël reinforces the old adage that ‘less is more’. Victor is cute enough as a young boy who just wants a ride on Santa’s sleigh without the need for the child’s to be fatherless. Fake Santa is a common thief – end of story. But Coffre ups the ante by giving him a back story straight out of Dickens. Rahim does his best to flash out the role but when the actor from such highly-acclaimed films as A Prohet, The Past and Grand Central fails to cast his spell, then things are on a slippery slope. It’s a shame the one genuine Christmas film to hit the big screen in France this year does not do justice to the genre.