April 8, 2008
Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes, 1966
Droll, charming, and picaresque, Jean Eustache's Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes chronicles the empty hours, petty capers, and amorous misadventures of Daniel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), an unmotivated (and consequently fired) erstwhile bricklayer and modern day dandy who, rather than admit to his blue collar roots, has concocted an elaborate tale of paternal conspiracy and social consciousness for his perennially cash-strapped circumstances and habitual unemployment. But with few prospects to win a girl's heart without going (and more pressingly, spending money) on a date, and the impending arrival of colder weather, Daniel and his equally fashionably underemployed friend Dumas (Gérard Zimmermann) arrive at the conclusion that the answer to their winter doldrums lies in saving enough money to buy a stylish, a la mode duffel coat for the new year. To this end, he decides to accept a job offer from a photographer (René Gilson) to work as a sidewalk Santa, soliciting people in the street to have their pictures taken with him for a fee. Donning full costume, the roguish young Santa freely chats up women on the street who eagerly stop to pose for a picture (and unwittingly, an opportunistic grope from the all too insinuating Father Christmas), and bewilder unsuspecting acquaintances as he catches them off guard with his seemingly omniscient personal knowledge. In disguise, Daniel soon finds paradoxical liberation in his newfound anonymity. In its lyrical and ribald treatment of idle (or more appropriately, stunted) youth, it's easy to see the rudiments of the posturing, self-absorbed loafer, Alexandre (also played by Leaud) of Eustache's magnum opus The Mother and the Whore taking shape in this brisk and delightful early collaboration. Ironically, devoid of the political context that pervades The Mother and the Whore, Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes becomes an even more incisive contemporary portrait of an adrift, postwar generation, where the aimless pursuit of the here and now reveals the giddy anxiety of lost identity.