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September 20, 2013

Cuento de navidad

by Franz Patrick


Cuento de navidad (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It is the day before Christmas when five friends stumble upon a hole in the ground in the woods. At the bottom of it lies a sleeping woman in a Santa Claus outfit. Instead of helping her to get out, they eventually decide to leave her there. After all, missing persons usually come with a reward. It turns out that the twelve-year-olds are right: the woman, Rebeca Expósito (Maru Valdivielso), has pulled off a daring heist. The authorities are looking for her and the two million she has stolen. The kids tell her that if she reveals to them the location of the money, they will throw in a rope so she can climb up. However, if she refuses, they will leave her to die.

Confident in execution and maintaining a palpable level of tension throughout, “Cuento de navidad,” written by Luiso Berdejo and directed by Paco Plaza, is a horror picture that actually surprises. While the scare factor is not very big, it takes place in a specific time period and does not waver from its perspective. That is, the story is told through the eyes of children on the cusp of being teenagers. They argue about what is the right thing to do for each of their sakes, their status as a group, and the thief who might be sitting in her grave.

It captures how it is like to be twelve. They are not taken seriously, as shown in an early scene when they seek help from a cop, they tend to define life through the movies they watch, and they assume the worst out of a situation even after thinking things through. But the material does not only get the personalities right. They wear the right clothes, possess the cool toys, and they have the movies they are not supposed to be watching on VHS tape. It is enjoyable to look into their world. We get a sense of why they are friends.

But these are kids with distinct personalities so, naturally, they disagree over certain courses of action. Moni (Ivana Baquero) and Koldo (Christian Casas) think that they should just let the woman go. While they agree that she is probably dangerous, she is in no shape to come after them. They can simply tie the rope to a tree and throw the other end into the hole. While she pulls herself out, they can run. After all, she does not know where they live. But Peti (Roger Babià) and Eugenio (Daniel Casadellà) want the money, all of it. They argue that the woman’s life is in her hands. All she has to do is tell them where the money is hidden. Tito (Pau Poch), on the other hand, remains mostly apathetic. He is too busy trying to be like Ralph Macchio’s character in “The Karate Kid.”

As the first half continues to build, we wonder how much is enough for Rebeca to endure. Sure, she is a thief but her prolonged suffering made me feel bad eventually. This is a smart move because since it is likely that our sympathy has shifted, the latter half is focused on the group of friends having the scare of their lives. And maybe they deserve to experience that fear. What they did, regardless of one’s age, to that woman is not okay.

“The Christmas Tale” dabbles with the occult and it works wonders. It takes advantage of the impressionability of the children and since we perceive the events through them, reality is somewhat skewed. We are given straight answers, but most of the time we are left to wonder what is actually happening. The final scene is one to remember.

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