Le Père Noël, translated as Santa Claus!, begins as six-year-old Antoine (Victor Cabal) is making his Christmas wishes to Santa Claus. Shortly after going to bed, he hears such a clamor in the living that he goes to investigate. Antoine sees a man fully dressed as jolly old Saint Nick, beard included. Deducing this must be the real Santa, he follows the man (Tahar Rahim) down the rope attached to the balcony. Not wanting to kill a child inadvertently, the Santa burglar helps Antoine to safety.
Several attempts to get the boy back up to his apartment and into bed fail. Since Antoine won’t go away, the thieving man decides that the kid will tag along with him during his misdeeds. So, Santa tells Antoine that they need to collect gold from various homes to magically make the sleigh fly again. Due to the boy’s relentlessness and size, the burglar sends Antoine into a few houses, as he’d be harder to spot.
They bond throughout the night, but Santa’s lifestyle catches up with them. This fake Santa Claus owes money to the wrong people, who are hot on his trail. Will the man amend his ways? Can he keep Antoine safe from harm and get him home before daybreak?
“Santa tells Antoine that they need to collect gold from various homes to magically make the sleigh fly again.”
Given that this Belgian production is a lighthearted Christmas comedy, the way the plot wraps itself up should not come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, Santa Claus! does not really have an original moment throughout its breezy 80-minute runtime. Well, that is not entirely true; there is one but is not within the movie itself. The screenplay has nine different people attached to it.
Of those nine, three of them are credited as story consultants or concept developers. Another four wrote the dialogue, which is snappy, but not so stylized that it seems to have required this number of writers (think Tarantino or good David S. Goyer scripts for the kind of back and forth that would warrant such attention). Two of them are credited as merely having participated. The character arcs are precisely what you’d expected once everyone has been introduced and the plot hits all the familiar beats; so what about this film took nine people to craft a blueprint for what amounts to a family friendly version of Bad Santa? (No, that is not the only film this takes inspiration from, just the most prominent influence).
However, none of this means the movie is bad at all, as it is well produced. Alexandre Coffre, one of the nine writers, directs with ease and visual inventiveness. One of the more fun sequences of Santa Claus! is when Antoine is robbing the houses and learning what to take and what not to take. In one of the residences, Antoine cuts off gold colored buttons from a jacket. The Santa, whom I don’t recall getting a name beyond Santa, then explains how the jewelry is worth it, and the buttons are not. There is a jovial sense of fun he’s having at seeing the kid take anything gold, even if it is not real.
Little touches like that provide the movie with any number of amusing moments. That’s the thing, while the story is old hat, this is a solidly made, fun version of this kind of story. Going along with the buttons section, the calculations the duo use to get in and out the apartments they are robbing pop up as diagrams and equations, taking into account weight, velocity, and the distance the rope needs to swing to land them on the balcony/ roof/ through the open window.
“…a harmless, fun Christmas movie the whole family will enjoy.”
Of course, none of this would matter if the pairing falls flat. Thankfully, the casting in Santa Claus! is its greatest strength. Victor Cabal is natural and makes Antoine’s precociousness endearing. In the wrong hands, this child would have been grating, and the whole movie would be sunk before it even began. But, Cabal is sweet and adorable. Every part his equal, Tahar Rahim oozes charisma. He plays off his young co-star very well, and he makes for a dashing thief-with-a-heart-of-gold.
On a train, the cops are looking for a thief, as reports of robberies have been happening all night. Getting off the train, the police approach the pair. Santa pretends that Antoine is his kid and the officers ask Antoine what his father’s name is. He answers “Daddy,” because he’s six. Cabal and Rahim are great in this scene, and their comedic timing is second to none. The rest of the cast all do respectable jobs, but the focus is on Cabal and Rahim, who appears in every single scene in the film (not always together but still).
Santa Claus! does not amount to anything the audience hasn’t seen before (occasionally better, sometimes worse). However, there is enough Christmas cheer and delightful little touches to make the predictable story not wear thin. Throw in the brilliant leading performances and you are left with a harmless, fun Christmas movie the whole family will enjoy.
Santa Claus! (2018) Directed by Alexandre Coffre. Written by Alexandre Coffre, Rachel Palmieri, Fabrice Carazzo, Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun, Yoann Gromb, Sabrina Amara, Pierre Cabon, Margaux Dourbin. Starring Tahar Rahim, Victor Cabal, Annelise Hesme, Michaël Abiteboul, Jean-François Cayrey, Djibril Gueye.
6.5 out of 10 Christmas Trees