Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joyeux Noel (2005)

Joyeux Noel is a moving film about a true First World War incident that still surprises nearly a century later.

German, French and Scottish troops agree to a truce on Christmas Eve in 1914. They share rations, drinks and attend mass all in No Man's Land.

On Christmas Day, the ceasefire continues with the dead given proper burials and trenches shared depending on what side is doing the shelling. Soldiers from the three countries play soccer.

There's humour too, with both French and German soldiers claiming ownership of a cat that moves between the opposing trenches. Not everyone shares in the festive spirit. Jonathan (Steven Robertson) is a Scottish solider who seethes hatred towards the Germans for their killing his younger brother. There's a tense scene when he encounters a friendly German. Will he accept his enemy's friendly greeting or will Jonathan act out and end the truce?

Director Christian Carion focuses much of his story on Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), a famous German tenor who is conscripted into the army and serves as a private. His lover, Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger), joins him for a Christmas Eve performance for high-ranking German officers. She knows Sprink is doomed to die and wants him to desert. Sprink feels obligated to keep serving alongside his comrades. His superior officer Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl) is suspicious of Sprink's loyalty to the German army.

Audebert (Guillaume Canet) leads the French troops. His wife is behind enemy lines. She's given birth, but he has no idea about his wife's health or the child's sex. He clashes with his father, who is a superior officer, about the war.

There's a great scene when military censors open soldiers' letters and read about the Christmas truce. Snippets of letters are shared by voiceover. Military brass are aghast at such open fraternization with the enemy. French and German troops are shipped to other parts of the Western front.

There's a real sense of sadness in Joyeux Noel. What should be one of the happiest days of the year is surrounded by dread knowing many of the men who took part in the truce will not survive another four years of fighting in the trenches.

This film has encouraged this movie fan to read more about this topic. Malcolm Brown's Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914 and O Holy Night: The Peace of 1914 by Michael Snow and Annie Berzoven, have the strongest reviews on Amazon. I hope to read at least one of these titles and share my thoughts on that work in 2013.

Joyeux Noel earned an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film. It's definitely worth a look. Merry Christmas.

RATING: 8/10

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