Joyeux Noel, Putting WWI on Hold For Christmas (Day #7)

Title: Joyeux Noel

Release: November 9th, 2005

Director: Christian Carlon

Writer(s): Christian Carlon

Starring: Benno Furmann, Guillaurne Canet, Daniel Bruhl, Diana Kruger, Gary Lewis, Alex Ferns

*Warning, this review may contain spoilers.

If we have learned anything from media in the last few years, it is the war is hell. However, even in the darkest of times when the world has essentially been on fire, even sworn enemies can take a moment to appreciate their similarities. While we wouldn’t normally think of World War I when we think of Christmas cheer and fun, today’s film is determined to change that. Coming from our French friends, today we are looking at Joyeux Noel.

A Slice From History?

Illustrated circa January 1915

When it comes to properly showcasing a brutal war injected with festive cheer, you couldn’t follow just one subject. Joyeux Noel tells its story from the eyes of six drastically different individuals: Royal Scots Fusilier Gordon, Frend Lieutenant Audebert, German Lieutenant Horstmayer, Father Palmer, famous Opera singers Nikolaus Sprink and Anna Sorensen. While their origins and professions may be different, they all end up on the front lines in the trenches. As Christmas Day arrives and Father Palmer, Nikolaus, and Anna perform on the battlefield, the echoes of war disappear and a temporary truce is formed, just for the day. Joyeux Noel shows us what led up to the truce and the events that followed.

What makes Joyeux Noel incredibly interesting is the fact that it is loosely based off an actual historic ceasefire, even if it is fictionalized. Known as the “Christmas Truce”, the event is a series of ceasefires along the Western Front during Christmas back in 1914. While leadership busied themselves in the generation of new strategies, the common infantry dropped their hostile guards to embrace the other side. During the week before Christmas, soldiers from both sides crossed No Man’s Land to express their warm greetings and even visit family in hostile territory. Both sides even held joint funeral ceremonies, expressing shared sorry and joy through traditional caroling.

A Different Perspective

Joyeux Noel features a fantastically talented cast, each holding their own in their equally difficult performances. Gary Lewis’s performance as Father Palmer stood out to me the most personally, as I’ve found that members of the clergy are difficult to portray. This is probably due to my own complicated relationship with organized religion, so I’m impressed whenever a performance like this surprises me. Lewis’s conflicted portrayal of Palmer while being chastised by his Bishop over his actions intrigues me to no end. The blindness of members of the clergy appalls me to this day.

While we have always known war is hell, Joyeux Noel tells WWI from a slightly different perspective. Sure, Joyeux Noel is a dramatic war film, so it does have its share of bloodshed and brutal madness. You don’t have to look very far either, as the early charge during the first battle scene sets the film’s stance on the matter pretty quickly. However, Joyeux Noel tries to find the balance between the horrors of war and the sentimentality of Christmas, which feels odd at many moments throughout the film. Again though, you need to consider how much of an odd occurrence the “Christmas Truce” was.

A Unique Addition

Joyeux Noel may not be as well known in our native United states, the film found plenty of acclaim back in 2005. The film won a handful of film critic awards, even being nominated for Best Foreign Language film during the 2005 Academy Awards. Interesting fact, Joyeux Noel’s original release in the States was with an R rating until legendary film critic Roger Ebert chimed in. Showcasing the overt sentimentality of the film in his review, the film’s rating was later lowered to PG-13.

Now to put it bluntly, Joyeux Noel is not a film for everyone, especially not for the youngins her are immature. The film features heavy themes of war and chaos, yet at the same time is a showcase of the pure brotherhood of man that soldiers can feel in the lulls of battle. The film tells a heartfelt story set in the oddest occurrence during World War I, and at the same time clearly depicts war and life in the trenches. If you are in need of a new film to add to your Christmas viewing catalog that is a bit out of the norm, Joyeux Noel might just be the fix you need.

Once the bullets stop flying, everyone can take a moment to breathe.

Thanks for reaching the end of the article! This piece is apart of our Modern Neon Christmas Bonanza, where we are looking at 25 of our favorite or well-known Christmas movies.  So click through to see the previous and next movie, or go back to the home page to find your favorite movie!

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