By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
It is December of 1914, and combat rages cruelly on. Thousands of soldiers throw themselves at each other in the name of God and Country. In one particular part of the Western front; German, Scottish and French soldiers prepare for their first Christmas at war. On Christmas Eve, singing begins to reverberate around the trenches. Before long, soldiers on both sides begin to file into No-Man’s Land. A truce is declared among the men, who waste no time swapping pictures of girlfriends, drinks, and whatever little else they have with each other. In ensuing days, the soldiers would be transferred to other units, and/or punished by their superiors for refusing to fight, having learned that their “enemy” has more in common with them than the ones who send them to fight. God forbid a handful of people get in the way of the grand plan.
There are some people at Christmas who prefer their holiday themed movies to be sanitized and clean. The kind of people that watch ABC Family and movies starring Kirk Cameron. A film which truly represents the Christmas spirit is one which highlights the good things people do to help others. This is particularly satisfying to witness when the characters are confronted with horrifying conditions, and triumph over them.
So basically: Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever…
In all seriousness, Joyeux Noël tells a powerful story about a truly strange piece of World War I history. The performances are uniformly strong, with characters who are humanized rather than treated like window-dressing. Too many War films try to paint with a large brush, leaving individuals looking more like chess pieces than human beings. Instead, this focuses on a small handful of characters, and gives them each small moments.
A theme which the film explores is that of de-humanization. Director Christian Carion shows how much effort is put into deceiving the people in order to convince them to go to war. The film opens with a sequence in which schoolchildren recite rhymes in their own language demonizing their enemies, and ends with a priest sermonizing on the righteousness of killing the enemy.
It seems a bit disappointing that a film with such a strong anti-war theme would soft-pedal some of the grittier aspects of war. While it is understandable that a film with Christmas themes would not focus on bloodshed, the truth about trench warfare was somewhat more gruesome than is shown here. And the sub-plot of the German singer and his wife worked well until an ending which felt like a clear attempt to give some characters in this film a “happy ending”.
Exploring the absurdity of warfare, this highly effective drama has a lot to say, and says most of it quite well.
Take a Drink: when someone in the film drinks
Take a Drink: for each song that is sung
Do a Shot: when you realize most of the people who actually experienced the truce probably died shortly thereafter, and that the war would continue unabated for another 4 years… yeah man, that’s heavy…