A low-key, near-total charmer, writer-director Charles Poekel's "Christmas, Again" captures something ineffably moving about the holiday grind, as depicted in the life of a seasonal Christmas tree seller. Indie stalwart Kentucker Audley, an actor with wonderfully watchful, sad eyes, plays Noel, an itinerant builder whose Decembers are spent in a cold camper on a Brooklyn street surrounded by firs, stands and colored lights, working the night shift.
Customers ask about "that nice girl" who was around last year, and we know this is a painful subject. Noel's loneliness is palpable, even worrisome, but not pitying, and thankfully, he's not cynical about the gig: He smiles easily at kids and likes helping customers buy into the illusion that something cut from its roots is one of the season's most enduring symbols of life and togetherness.
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He also rescues an unconscious young woman (Hannah Gross) from freezing overnight on a park bench, and when she returns the next day with a pie, it's clear something's in store for Noel.
But the emotions aren't easily pegged in Poekel's sweetly offbeat tale, shot in warmly grainy 16mm by Sean Price Williams. By the story's close on Christmas morning, the faintly scented air of hard work, kindness and melancholy left behind is as quietly real and beautiful as that from any other beloved holiday classic. One can easily imagine an alternate universe in which Charles M. Schulz's holiday-challenged boy hero makes his own yearly pilgrimage to the gemlike "Christmas, Again" to help navigate the season.