On the Eighth Day of Christmas… “Joyeux Noël”

[…Day 8 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]
Joyeux Noel DVD cover

Director: Christian Carion
Writers: Christian Carion
Producer: Christophe Rossignon
Starring: Diane Kruger, Natalie Dessay, Benno Fürmann, Rolando Villazón
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 116 min.
Year of Release: 2005
Country of origin: France, Germany, UK, Romania, Belgium

An anti-war movie on Christmas? Might seem a bit of an odd choice of a film to watch on Christmas, but of course anti-war is exactly the kind of film that should be watched in the true spirit of Christmas. And Joyeux Noël is exactly that; a film that takes the most brutal place on earth in that particular time and shows us that we are all human and we all long for comraderie and love.

Right in the thick of the bloody trench warfare of WWI, Christmas Day approaches. Each of the countries participating in this particular skirmish (Scotland, France, Germany) prepares for it’s Christmas in different ways. With hearty meals, music or hundreds of lit Christmas trees in their trench. Even though an unwritten cease fire “rule” is in effect for Christmas, all sides are weary of the fact that the other side might initiate a surprise attack at any moment. When the Scots begin to play their bagpipes with a rendition of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the German side happens to have a very talented and famous tenor in their group who begins to sing along. Slowly but surely, each side begins to emerge from their trenches and the commanding officers organize a truce – just for one night.

As the men slowly get to know one another, it becomes laughs, drinks and stories of home. Even without knowing the other side’s language, the men quickly become friends and even are able to enjoy a midnight mass together. Now friends, each side finds it difficult to resume fire the following day and more fraternization between “enemies” occurs.

When word of this truce hits the men’s superiors back in their home country, of course none of it is understood or tolerated and each side must deal with the consequences from home of their actions in their own way.

The movie does take some time to get started, but all of the exposition is necessary as it really needs to explain the motivation behind the three or four men that the story mostly focuses on. While there are a bit of battle sequences, there’s nothing overly exciting or adventuresome that ever happens. Most of the tension comes from watching the distrust of these men slowly dissipate as they challenge themselves to trust in humanity and also the “enemy.”

For me, it was the music that finally got me invested in the story. Hearing the different cultures playing their songs to lighten the mood for the troops was really the international language that brought everyone together and was the catalyst for friendships that were bonded and bound to continue for years, even after the war was over.

While it’s hard to describe exactly why this movie works so well without just going through the story point by point and analyzing each man’s feelings, the movie does seem to have a lot to say about humanity and the nature of war and the power of love. It touches on the indoctrination of children (from all sides), the sadness and despair and ruin that unnecessary death can bring about and the insanity of fighting brother against brother. Even though it feels a little bit like an edited down version of an ABC mini-series, the production value is quality and the “true story” aspect of the story really hits home – particularly this time of year and the current state of the world.

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The rendition of Silent Night in this film was so touching, I cried. Such a beautiful film. I'm enjoying your 12 films of Christmas.