Sometimes the most touching films come in the smallest packages. One recent film I saw that I found truly wonderful is Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes (French: Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus), a charming and lovely little film that may not technically qualify as a short film, but clocking in at just under an hour, it is a film that takes the idea of brevity being the soul of wit to heart. It remains one of the most delightful films I have ever seen, and one that has a heart much bigger than its run-time.
Daniel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young man in France during the 1960s. He is broke and pretty much unemployed, even venturing into petty crime. However, he is also a fashionable young man, and with the rise of popularity of the duffle coat, he desperately wants to remain a part of the trend. He wants girls to like him, but he is constantly rebuffed and rejected by them, and perhaps a new coat will make him more appealing to them. Unfortunately, he can’t afford to buy one. He takes on the job of dressing up as Santa Claus to make enough money to buy a coat – but through doing so, he discovers that it is a lot easier to get girls to like you when you are dressed up as a beloved cultural icon.
There is really nothing complex about Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes. It is a sweet film with a simple message. There might not be a whole mass of things to say about it, but it is certainly a very delightful film. It isn’t quite enough to just look at this film in isolation because most of what makes Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes such a wonderful film is when you consider what is going on around it. The era and cultural practices that pertain to this film show a far more complex meaning towards this film, and while it may not change the tone or message of Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes, it does help us see this film as a snapshot of a particular moment in a certain culture, and it captures the zeitgeist of 1960s France without selling the idea that this is the be-all-and-end-all of representations of the culture.
The idea of presenting a particular representation of the culture of France during this period was something that the Nouvelle Vague (or French New Wave) movement was extraordinarily good at. While two names define the French New Wave – particularly Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut – the movement extends far beyond these two names. Perhaps the figure in the French New Wave I love the most is Jean Eustache – although, logically I would define him as someone who may not have been an official member of the moment, but certainly did play some part in the later years, and even perhaps led the elite group of post-French New Wave filmmakers. He was an oddball of French filmmakers, and seemed to be an innovative filmmaker in all regards – just look at the fact that he is able to make a film like Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes, which tells a coherent story in under an hour, as well as something like The Mother and the Whore, which clocks in at nearly four hours but remains a beautiful piece of cinema that never feels excessive. While Eustache truly reached his peak later on, a film like Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes serves to be a vital piece of French New Wave filmmaking. There is a wonderful little reference within this film, where the lead character Daniel is looking at some film posters, one of them being for the French New Wave classic, The 400 Blows, a film in which Jean-Pierre Léaud was the star. Eustache is very clear in his inspirations, while still being someone who can consider himself a part of the movement that has inspired him.
Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes has a simple story, and it may (on the surface) appear to be a lot more lighthearted than many films, but it also tackles themes that are common to other similar French films – a trendy, but somewhat shady, young individual engages in various activities – legal or illegal – to make some form of income, not for glory or massive wealth, but for simple reasons – there is a slight theme of pathos present in this film that may not make this a sad film, but does make it a realistic example of the post-war European individual.
For Daniel in Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes, it means dressing up as Santa Claus in order to make money to buy a coat, so that girls may like him. Through the activity, he actually finds that he can attract girls anyway. Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes looks at this post-war generation in Europe, how these baby-boomers were somewhat lost, having to come into adulthood on a continent being repaired from the ravages of war, not having being given the opportunity to grow up in a stable environment like previous generations. Eustache takes an unflinchingly personal look at these young men and how they make livings for themselves. The ending is both amusing and haunting, just like the film as a whole – it is a delightful, quaint story, but it speaks to much larger themes about these men, and how they survive. It is this kind of attention to society that makes Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes such a wonderful film and a great part of the French New Wave.
There really isn’t much else to say about this film, because it is so simple in execution and story. It never attempts to deviate too far from the central story, and it serves to be pretty straightforward and simple. I love the French New Wave because there is absolutely no space for excess – the story is imperative, and with the exception of a few flourishes, the films are (for the most part) unornamented in execution, which allows for the complex themes and highly relevant messages to become clearer, as there is nowhere for these ideas to hide. Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes is not an exception to this idea, and it does it beautifully, never failing to show the central story and themes through uncomplicated, but aesthetically pleasing, filmmaking. The documentary-like filmmaking just gives this film added charms and helps locate it deeply within the culture of the French New Wave.
Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes is a great film. It isn’t long at all, packing an emotional punch and providing a great story in under an hour. The performances are natural and fascinating, and overall, it is a great piece of social commentary. It may seem a bit too slow at times, but is has a great message at the core of it, and it all becomes better when you try and locate this film within the culture it appears in, and once all factors that surround it – the era, the location, cultural mentalities – it becomes so much more meaningful. It is a quirky, funny film that may not be well-known, but it certainly is a wonderful discovery if there ever was one. Seek this film out – it is readily available, and it is a brilliant little piece of art that I would recommend to anyone who just wants something thought-provoking. More than anything else, Santa Claus Has Blues Eyes deserves to be seen simply because it is a fascinating portrait of the Parisian youth of the post-war era, something that is rarely explored as beautifully simple as in French New Wave cinema.