Earlier this month, I was somewhat critical of the Christmas movies that have been released in recent years. These days many Christmas movies are filled with humor and lack the warmth of holiday films from the 1930’s and 40’s. With that being said, I want to recommend a more recent Christmas film, that shows the power and heart of the holiday season, Joyeux Noel (2005). This Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is based on true events that took place during World War I, although the individual characters and their personal situations seem to be primarily fictional.
The majority of this film takes place on the western front during the winter of 1914. The French, German and Scottish trenches have been fighting endlessly, but in the hours before Christmas, all three groups agree upon an unofficial cease-fire. Although a holiday spent sharing stories with the enemy is far from what these men were expecting, they find that their humanity takes over as they are all swept away by the peacefulness of this one day, despite the differences of these countries. Even the German, Leutnant Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl), who is Jewish, understands the importance of what is being done here.
Since the idea of a Christmas truce seems illogical today, it is hard to think that these events could have really taken place. Can the spirit of Christmas really mean so much to these men that they would be willing to lay down their weapons and join each other in no man’s land for a drink, a conversation or even a game of football? For a brief time, these men who were in the midst of the most horrific events of their lives, found a way to stop being soldiers and become human once again.
Anyone having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit can benefit from a film like Joyeux Noel because it celebrates this holiday from the point of view of men who have had this joyous season taken away. In order to prove its importance, they are willing to go against their superiors and remember everything that they have been trained to forget.
I won’t sit here and pretend that Joyeux Noel doesn’t play to the sentimentality of its story in order to pull at the heartstrings of the audience. Being a true, and almost unbelievable story, it was easy to manipulate the film to be as powerful as possible. One of the main characters of the film is a German named Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), who before the war was a famous opera tenor. On Christmas Eve, he is taken to Berlin to perform for some officers, along with his previous stage performer (and lover), Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger). After the performance, Sprink feels compelled to return to the trenches, and against Sprink’s wishes, Anna stays with him. Once in the trenches and singing to his fellow soldiers, a Scottish priest working as a stretcher-bearer begins playing the bagpipes in unison with Sprink’s singing. Obviously music has an overwhelming emotional response for people, and when Sprink walks out of his trench singing and carrying a Christmas tree in his hand, the powerfulness of the scene is undeniable.
The singing in the film is actually done by Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazon, and along with the hauntingly beautiful score by Philippe Rombi, the film will fill your home with joyous music. The music itself actually plays a character of its own. It is what brings these men together, and it is the one thing that can’t be taken away from them.
In order to focus the film on the truce and not on the war, director Christian Carion tones down the violence, and refrains from making any one side seem more righteous. This is not a war movie, or even an anti-war movie; it is a film about the kindness and humanity of all men. Wars are always easier to fight when your enemy doesn’t have a face, and these soldiers’ lives are forever changed by spending a few hours seeing their battlefield from a different perspective.
I find that Joyeux Noel reminds me of the people in the world that would like to be enjoying Christmas, but for whatever reason, it has been taken away from them. The Christmas season is not something that should be taken for granted, but rather embraced because we are fortunate enough to experience the splendor that comes with this one single day of the year.Back to Home for More Reviews