3615 Code Père Noël (1990)

vt Game Over; vt Hide and Freak; vt Deadly Games

France / 88 minutes / color / LM, Deal, Garance Dir & Scr: René Manzor Pr: Francis Lalanne Cine: Michel Gaffier Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Louis Ducreux, Patrick Floersheim, Alain Musy, François-Eric Gendron, Stéphane Legros, Franck Capillery, Marion Bureau.

Nine-year-old Thomas “Tommy” de Frémont (Musy) has his every whim indulged, it seems, in the château owned by his mother, Julie (Fossey): he has more toys than a toyshop, thanks not a little to the fact that Julie is manager of the megastore Printemps, and he enjoys dressing himself up like Rambo and slugging it out with his dog J.R. We get the message that Julie spoils Thomas in foolish hope of compensating for the fact—much resented by him—that the demands of her job and her love life mean she’s hardly ever around for him.

3615 Code - 1

Young Tommy (Alain Musy) sees himself as Rambo.

It’s Christmas Eve, and Julie is off to Printemps, warning Tommy that she’ll likely have to work late; at the movie’s opening it seems this means she’ll be spending time with her assistant and lover Roland (Gendron) but later on it becomes evident that “doing the year-end accounts” is not in fact a euphemism. Tommy is left in charge of the frail old grandfather he loves, Papy (Ducreux), who’s befuddled and largely blind from diabetes.

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The family domicile — Cinderalla’s castle, anyone?

Thomas is a geekly genius, whose hobbies include writing new computer programs, creating security systems and repairing old cars, yet he still believes Santa Claus is real. His best pal Pilou (Legros) knows better. To prove Pilou wrong, Tommy uses Minitel (a French precursor of the internet that was popular from about the early 1980s onward and not finally phased out until 2012) to contact, or so he thinks, Santa; in fact he’s managed to get in touch with a psycho (Floersheim). Before their connection is broken, Tommy divulges that his mother is the boss at Printemps.

3615 Code - 2 Psycho Santa (Patrick Floersheim) is happy to have a job3615 Code - 6

Two portraits of Psycho Santa (Patrick Floersheim).

The psycho gets a job as one of the many Santas at the store. When he reacts angrily to a small girl, Marion (Bureau), who’s being rude to him, Julie fires him—a big mistake, because before you know it he has gone to the château, murdered the servants and, in a fit of theatricality, descended the main chimney so that Tommy can watch him arrive. J.R. attacks the intruder but is despatched by the psycho using a nearby cake knife. The fact that Tommy switched off the alarm system in hopes of catching Santa on one of the innumerable video cameras he has rigged is a big help to the intruder. And you never know when a cake knife might come in handy.

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This is not how you expect Santa to treat the family pup.

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In one of several trompes l’oeil, an aerial view of Tommy lost in a maze of corridors.

The rest of the movie involves Tommy alternately trying to hide himself and Papy from Psycho Santa and counterattacking using his vast arsenal of toys, some of which seem improbably lethal. There are some moments of deliberate drollery in this, as well as some moments of airy fantastication (for example, Tommy has riddled the house with a warren of secret passageways that only he knows, one of these leading through the storage area where are kept the toys of past generations of de Frémonts), but the overall tenor of the movie is grim: Psycho Santa commits several murders, and Tommy gets fairly badly knocked around.

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Hiding in the car is not enough when Psycho Santa’s after you!

To an extent this is Home Alone (1990) played for darkness rather than comedy. Musy is no Macaulay Culkin, but for the most part he’s perfectly adequate in the role. There’s also a definite influence from Miracle on 34th Street (1947); if you like, this could be the story of what happened after Maureen O’Hara fired the Santa who turned up at Macy’s drunk.

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The first of Tommy’s boobytraps strikes home; moments later, though, Santa seems strangely unaffected by the injuries.

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Toyed, toyed, you’re dead?

This is not one of those movies you’re likely to parse as if it were Shakespeare, but it’s remarkably watchable nonetheless. Floersheim is quite special as a psycho who attracts our sympathy almost as much as he inspires our fear. Ducreux is superbly cast as the genial old man. Brigitte Fossey is always good value: it’s one of those pleasing little coincidences that one of the variant titles of this movie is Deadly Games since Fossey’s first movie role, at age just 6, was in René Clément’s Forbidden Games (1952).

Although the plot might overall seem not especially noirish, it’s clear from the many low- and high-angle shots that director Manzor and cinematographer Gaffier wanted to emphasize the connection. The dedication in the opening credits—”à Alain Delon“—is a bit of monstrous vainglory, but why not?

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“Hey, Tommy, it’s all been just a game. Now it’s my turn to hide!”

The movie’s something of a family affair, Musy is really named Alain Lalanne. Director René Manzor is in reality René Lalanne, a brother of producer Francis Lalanne and of Jean-Félix Lalanne, who wrote the music for this movie. Such outings tend to be embarrassing, especially when one of the participants is a kid, but that’s not the case here.

On Amazon.fr: 3615 Code Père Noël

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