Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmarathon Day 11: Joyeux Noël

Well, if you're only going to watch one of the films I review during my Christmarathon, it should probably be this one.

Joyeux Noël is a French film that tells the story of the Christmas Truce during World War I. During the Christmas of 1914, all along the trenches of Europe, soldiers from both sides put down their weapons and enjoyed unofficial, unsanctioned truces between the nations. The soldiers came out of their trenches to offer greetings, exchange gifts, play friendly games of football, and to bury the dead that littered the no man's land between the rival trenches of the opposing armies. It's hard to believe, but it was one Christmas miracle that actually took place, and Joyeux Noël is about as brilliant a retelling of the events as I could ever imagine.

It's a glorified view of the historical events, of course, combining  almost all of the tales and anecdotes that spanned the continent into one event on a single battlefield. Also, some of the events that take place almost strain credibility, such as having the tenor's wife come and meet him in the Trenches during the war (played by the very fetching Diane Kruger). But none of that mattered because the story was so heartfelt, the direction was so sure-handed, and the performances by the multi-national cast were so impeccable.

The film is clearly a European production, however, with all of the dialogue being equally split between English, French, and German. Also, the screenplay assumes you have at least a passing knowledge of WWI, which I think some American audiences might find confusing. I think most American history books mention WWI only after 1915, and then they jump straight onto WWII. In order to truly understand the impact of the truce between the soldiers, more context of the war itself might be required than what is provided in the film. But the dynamics between the various characters are easy to follow and the themes of fellowship and goodwill toward men (and women) are all universal.

I had honestly never heard of this film before I threw it on my Netflix queue, but it was a real gem that I'm glad I found. I had known of the Christmas Truce story, but mostly from folklore or from that Paul McCartney video for the song Pipes of Peace. This movie put a real face not only to the truce, but to the soldiers who fought in the war that inspired it. This is one of those movies that shows you how horrible man can be to his fellow man, but at the same time how loving and honorable we can be as well. Anyway, I was pretty much in tears through the whole thing (if you can watch that scene where the French solider learns that his wife gave birth to his son and not burst into tears, well, you're a stronger man than me), and I recommend it highly for any fans of history, anti war films, or Christmas movies in general.

Two thumbs way up.

1 comment:

television lady said...

i am pumped to get it. i'm sure i'll be a wreck the entire time. really must have been a war of gentlemen, eh?