I don't know why, I was convinced that I had already published a blog post about this movie. Apparently it wasn't the case. And it's more than a little shameful, because 36:15 Code Père Noël (Dial Code Santa Claus, which is apprently the title under which the film is released these days on a limited run in the United States) is really one of my favorite movies. Released in 1989, I did at the time what too many potential viewers did, I stayed home, in spite of some good critics. But I was weary of critics at this point because of too many bad experiences. But in this instance, it turned out they were right in their appraisal of the movie!
I therefore saw it some years later in TV, and that was quite a shock. This movie was simply awesome! The story could be a part of the "Home Alone" series, released in 1990, to the point that René Manzor threatened to sue the producers of this movie for plagiarism. A young boy, (played by Alain Musy, whose real name is Alain Lalanne, the son of the director René Manzor, whose real name is of course René Lalanne), a little genius by the way, is alone in a gigantic mansion on Christmas Eve's day, with his very ill grandfather, played by Louis Ducreux. His mother, played by Brigitte Fossey, works in a store this very night. A homeless and obviously crazy person, incarnated, and that's not too strong a word, by Patrick Floersheim, who just got fired from his Santa Claus job, gets the adress of the boy, and goes there dressed as Santa Claus.
The first action of "Santa" there is to kill the dog, so we're not in "Home Alone" territory, and that's probably one of the reasons this weird movie failed of the box-office. It's impossible from a marketing point of view to sell it to anybody. It's too tense for children, but at the same time horror fans would find it too tame... The movie has its own tone, very unique. It blends a serious situation with improbable settings and traps, and all is on the shoulders of the incredibly charismatic young Alain Musy. He could have been irritating with his "little genius" side, but he draws immediate empathy, because he takes everything very seriously. We suffer with him, we are afraid as he is for the life of his grandfather. The identification is total, and there's no place in this movie for cynism and tongue-in-cheek.
René Manzor had directed one feature-length before, named "le Passage", but it was somewhat awkward and hard to watch for me, but the direction of Dial Code Santa Claus shows an impressive mastery, from beginning to end, a state of grace highlighted by the wonderful score by Jean-Félix Lalanne, mixing synth music with more traditional Christmas tunes. The cinematography is amazing, and the framing never loses en opportunity of "iconizing" young Thomas. He is filmed as would be filmed his hero, who inspires him through the whole movie, Rambo.
Way more than a simple down-to-earth silly confrontation between a psychpath and a child, what really is the focus of the movie on a secondary level is a thematic dear to my heart, the loss of innocence. Thomas will stay convinced during all the movie that he really fights Santa Claus, and the ending won't leave him unscathed. This Santa Claus, played by Patrick Floersheim in a masterful way, since is character is mostly mute, also has his part of innocence, even if in his case it's more related to madness. The bittersweet end song, "Merry Christmas", sung by Bonnie Tyler, is in this respect very explicit. It bookends very nicely a fantastic movie.
And so it seems that the movie is rediscovered by fellow Americans recently, and it has a limited release in the United States in a few enthusiastic theaters! Reviews are very good, as they should be, and if this movie could attain cult status, it would be well deserved, even after all this time.