3615 code Père Noël

Synopsis: Thomas (Alain Musy) is living with his mom and granddad in a huge country house. He makes a teltext phone call requesting that Santa Claus visit his house for Christmas. Instead, a crazed lunatic in a Santa outfit comes to visit, and for the rest of the film, Thomas is kept busy fending off the murderous Santa, in this French-style and relatively nonviolent thriller.

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3615 code Père Noël 7.75

eyelights: its basic plot. its lead character. its unique mixture of comedy, action and thriller.
eyesores: its plot implausibilities. its contrivances. its miniature of the mansion.

“You’re not the real Santa!”

Though it’s very likely that you’ve seen ‘Home Alone‘, you may never have heard of ‘3615 code Père Noël’. And yet, the 1989 French motion picture is notorious for its filmmaker’s claim that John Hughes’ box office smash had stolen his idea.

It was never pursued in court.

One can see why: though it revolves around a precocious preteen boy who’s left at home and, on Christmas Eve, has to fend off a home invasion using his ingenuity, it’s also extremely different in tone – it’s more of a thriller than a goofy comedy.

The twist is this: by using a Videotex online service, Thomas has inadvertently attracted the attention of a psychopathic homeless man who, dressed as Santa Claus, decides to come for him while his mother is away. And this man is very violent.

Once he breaks into the mansion, it’s a life or death struggle for the boy – and his nearly-blind grandfather.

Thankfully, Thomas is a wizkid; he can program any computer, fix any equipment and cobble together all manners of contraptions. With his mad skills, he sets traps, prepares makeshift weapons and generally causes trouble for the intruder.

…to the audience’s delight, of course.

On a surface-level, ‘3615 code Père Noël’ may seem like a childhood fantasy version of ‘McGyver’ meets ‘Rambo’: after all, not only are there many montages of Thomas fixing or building things, but he also likes to gear up quite like Stallone’s warrior.

Appearances can be deceiving, though: there’s apparently more to it.

Writer-director Manzor was trying to express the struggle he felt in his teens, wanting to hold on to his childhood for as long as he could, all the while seeing the intrusion of his adult self. The conflict in the movie is a metaphor for this.

This explains its ill-fitting tonal shifts: one moment, the picture is a carefree kids movie, the next it’s brutally violent. At times, it’s as though it doesn’t know what it wants to be, and it can be jarring to watch as it struggles with itself.

One thing for sure: it’s not a kids’ movie – it’s too terrifying and violent for that.

But… is it really for mature audiences, given that it has a pre-teen protagonist?

Hmmm… not sure.

One thing for sure is that it’s a fantasy: Thomas is brighter, more skilled and self-reliant than most adults, has the means to do whatever he wants (his mom is the extremely wealthy director of a department store), and he’s the one who saves the day.

The picture sets the stage early, with Thomas waking up in a large reproduction of a jet fighter. Seriously. And the first thing he does is suit up in his combat gear to create a battle scene all over the house with the help of his beloved pooch, G.R.

(Clearly, somebody’s been watching ‘G.I. Joe’!)

At that point, seeing the size of the mansion and all the gear that Thomas has to play with, one knows that it’s going to be a larger-than-life, unrealistic picture. It’s basically a boy’s fancy fantasy crashing head on with a much harsher reality.

And when it collides, it’s merciless: upon arrival, the psychotic Santa doesn’t take long to kill, and he’s totally unremorseful. The scene isn’t especially bloody, but it’s shocking enough that the audience fully grasps the gravity of the situation.

Well, what else would you expect from a picture that begins with a discarded snowglobe being crushed under a garbage truck’s wheel?

For me, what made the picture enjoyable was its mix of ’80s nostalgia: the toys, the technology, the music (though it’s crap), are all vaguely familiar to me; I was a teenager at the time that this was made so there is a sort of nostalgic quality about it.

Plus which is was just fun to see Thomas acting out scenarios he’d assimilated from the ’80s action films he’d watched. I could recall playing with figurines and doing the same – though he does it on a large scale because of his wealth and resources.

I also quite enjoy how it crosses playfulness with terror, jarring though it may be at times: I could relate to Thomas to some degree (mind you I was never as resourceful as he is); it vaguely put me in a “what if” scenario, something that I quite like.

It had my imagination juiced.

I also like the cat-and-mouse situation, even though it can be vicious, because it adds a much-needed fine layer of grit to make up for the sickly-sweet bits. Otherwise, this would have felt like a generic kids’ fantasy starring a fantasy kid.

It’s certainly not that.

Thomas is played by Alain Lalanne, who just happens to be René Manzor’s son. He holds the screen relatively well, but he suffers from an artificiality that is very common to young performers. Well, mercifully, he’s no Macaulay Culkin, either.

And he does have a few sweet moments with Louis Ducreux, who plays his grandfather.

Patrick Floersheim incarnates the psychotic homeless guy and, though he’s terrifying because he feels so disjointed that it’s pretty sure anything goes, he’s also more of a caricature than a real human being; at no point is he truly convincing.

The staging isn’t entirely credible either, with some scenes being more interesting conceptually than in their execution; sometimes the scenes are quite ludicrous, if not wholly impossible. The movie has to be watched like the fantasy that it is.

The ’80s were rife with the cinematic visions of man-children, after all.

And ‘3615 code Père Noël’ is no different: it’s Manzor’s dissection of his passage to adulthood from childhood – a childhood that he himself admits he never wanted to see end. Therefore its vagarities are completely in keeping with his nostalgia.

Though the mix is a bit awkward at times, in the end ‘3615 code Père Noël’ makes for an original concoction; there’s really no other picture like it, including the aforementioned ‘Home Alone’. Like it or hate it, you’d be hard-pressed to forget seeing it.

That alone makes it worthwhile viewing.

Date of viewing: September 4, 2017

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