Sapin$ sapins evergreen review

Sapin$ is Quebec’s fun, heartfelt, multiethnic addition to the Christmas movie overload

3 out of 5 stars

For holiday junkies, there’s no such thing as too much Christmas. Just look at the mass production of Christmas movies by Hallmark: this year alone, they’re releasing 23 new films for its audience. Overconsumption is the name of the game. 

You can’t blame the Quebec film industry for getting in on the racket. To the credit of Stéphane Moukarzel (director and co-writer along with Germain Larochelle), they tried something different with Sapin$. The movie doesn’t feel like a cheap, cast-aside product, indistinguishable from dozens of similar films this year. While not perfect either, it does have some heart and a world-building attempt that transcends the aspirational lifestyle-porn of most modern Christmas films. 

Étienne Galloy stars as Rémi, who ends up in big trouble after getting into a car crash while dressed as a terrorist. (While the film presents Rémi as careless and selfish, it sidesteps the racist overtones of his choices.) He’s outcast from his community and has an enormous debt to pay. Unable to find work, he ships off to NYC to sell Christmas trees on a street corner. Cold and uncomfortable at first, he eventually learns the value of community, friendship and other important lessons. 

Sapin$ sapins review

Set in NYC (though, for Montrealers, it’s very obviously shot içi), the film is a refreshingly multilingual experience. The multiethnic background of the setting means the film splits between English, Spanish and French. The film features the Québécois and French speakers from France, the American South and Cambodia. The film highlights the community of a multiethnic neighbourhood and the importance of saving it, as the third act becomes a fight against gentrification. The richness of the supporting cast contributes to a real sense of warmth in the film, and Rémi’s evolution feels rooted in tangible relationships with the people around him. 

The movie similarly covers a lot of familiar ground for a Christmas film while avoiding the consumerist side. The movie isn’t about gifts or luxuries but about fixing your heart and doing what’s right. It’s nothing revolutionary, though the approach to characterization and setting is consistently clever and embodied. Sapin$ indulges in clichés without being too dragged down by them.

Sapin$ sapins evergreen review

Overall, though, the film drags due to a slightly bloated runtime. A quick ninety minutes would have likely made the whole experience more pleasurable, as the movie loses steam in the latter half. Some obstacles to Rémi’s redemption and success are a bit too silly, and the mafioso-style villains running the tree-selling racket feel slightly out of place in the film. However, it also stands out as a straightforward way to throw him off his game. Without their presence, it’s clear that Rémi’s turnaround would have been far too easy. After all, he’s not a bad guy, just a kid who never really lived in the real world. 

Étienne Galloy as Rémi is intensely likeable. As an actor, he’s mastered a blank stupidity that resonates as extremely funny. He has a sincere and warm smile that blurs the line between stoner and boyish. His performance anchors the film, helping sell some of the more obvious moments and softening its more difficult ones. We see why people want to help him; he has an intangible charm and a willingness to be liked. Rémi, as a character, is well-intentioned but ultimately thoughtless. His journey throughout the film allows him to see the world as greater and larger than his own experience in a way that feels sincerely heartfelt.

Sapin$ isn’t going to change the game and is not the best Christmas movie ever, but it’s an enjoyable film with a lot of heart. ■

Sapin$ (directed by Stéphane Moukarzel)

Sapin$ opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Dec. 22.

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