Joyeux Noel (2005)

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The Christmas Eve ceasefire during WWI is one of the most remarkable moments in 20th century history. Also remarkable is that 90 years later a movie could be made about an event as isolated, impromptu, and as random as this was. Of course, it had to be largely fictionalized since nobody could possibly capture the history of the event well on film. What director Christian Carion does capture so well is the feeling of the event: the animosity, the loneliness heightened around a holiday, and the camaraderie of each army. As these feelings reach their climax, the animosity gives way to the other feelings expressed in the desire to celebrate Christmas.

Carion makes this all work so well because of the separation he hammers home throughout the movie. The film begins with three isolated, chilling scenes each taking place in a classroom in different countries. A young boy in Germany recites a hateful and murderous script against the French. A young boy in France recites a hateful and murderous script against the Germans. A young boy in England also recites a hateful and murderous script against the Germans.

Next, we move to the war itself. The movie constantly follows this formula. It cuts from a scene of the German army to a parallel scene of the French army and them to a parallel scene of the British army. We see the extreme separateness of the there, even though the French and the British were allies in the war.

An opera singer is brought in to boost the morale of the German soldiers around Christmas time. The Christmas music she sings begins the process of the truce. We hear her lead the army in “Stille Nacht.” Then members of the French troops sing  “Douce Nuit,” and the British soldiers sing “Silent Night.” They all sing the same carol but separately in their own language.

As the truce begins, a representative from each army is seen with his own bottle of champaign, pouring it for the rest of his troop, and each army toasts and says “Merry Christmas” separately in its own language. After almost an hour and a half of methodical division, the miracle happens. They all sing “Adeste Fideles” as the Latin text of “O Come All Ye Faithful” was still more known worldwide than any other version of the song at that time. It was the language and the hymn that could unify bitter enemies.

The movie’s tagline described it as being about the event that changed the lives of the soldiers forever. There were many ceasefires after this in WWI and attempts within opposing armies to make and maintain friendships with the “enemy.” In the last half hour of the movie, while it does not have time to depict those later and more long-lasting effects of the Christmas Eve ceasefire, it does a beautiful job of showing how the characters we have come to know were changed dramatically and how it effected their treatment of their fellow soldiers, their allies, and their enemies. It shows how they are willing to allow their roles in the war and their views towards their enemy soldiers to adapt while the war still continues. They grieve the losses of their newfound friends who they have were previously fighting against. Some even sacrifice their own lives for those on the other side. They have learned that it is possible to follow the words of Jesus to love your enemy.

Frohe Weihnachten.

Joyeux Noel.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

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