Political Film Society - Newsletter #249 - March 15, 2006

March 15, 2006


Joyeux NoelJoyeux Noël, directed by Christian Carion, dramatizes an extraordinary Christmas on the front lines of World War I in 1914. When the film begins, schoolchildren are mouthing war propaganda, reminiscent of the opening scene in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Fastforward to the war in 1914, which is being conducted as usual with soldiers, orders, and death amid snow in the trenches. Then Anna Sörenson (played by Diane Kruger) arrives to encourage her boyfriend, Nikolaus Sprink (played by Benno Führmann but sung by Rolando Villazón), to sing while holding a Christmas tree in the no-man's-land between opposing forces. Afterward, the French, German, and Scottish commanding officers (played respectively by Guillaume Canet, Daniel Bruhl, Alex Ferns) meet to agree to a Christmas truce. Palmer (played by Gary Lewis), a Catholic priest serving as a medic, then conducts a mass, including singing by Anna (voiced by Natalie Dessay) and Adeste Fideles by all those assembled. The truce holds on Christmas Day, and both sides exchange the dead to be buried. When artillery pounds one side, the others are invited into the trench to avoid casualties. Some lines in the dialog make clear that the soldiers feel more commonality with one another than with those who are egging them on to perceive the other side as "the enemy." However, the party ends when senior officers arrive to stop the truce. Although Sprink out of loyalty to Germany earlier declines Anna's invitation to defect so that they might be together, he is now informed that he will be punished for his fraternization, so both instead surrender to the French. The Germans are punished by being ordered to the Russian front. The French and Scottish units are disbanded. And Palmer is replaced by a bishop (played by Ian Richardson), who preaches that the war is a "crusade" to kill every last barbaric Hun. World War I started as a preemptive attack by Germany on France before the Russian army could mobilize to overwhelm Germany, but could have been avoided if diplomats had been able to meet in the manner in which the soldiers shared common sentiments. Joyeux Noël, a quintessential anti-war film, has been nominated by the Political Film Society as best film on peace of 2006. MH


C.S.A.: The Confederate States of AmericaC.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, directed by Kevin Willmott, is a mokumentary, that is, a film in the format of a documentary but about untrue events. What if the South won the Civil War? That is the premise of the film, which is based in part on two actual facts that appear as titles at the end. One is that the CSA Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, a Jewish lawyer and former plantation owner, went to Europe in order to negotiate an alliance with England or France, though both countries demurred, presumably awaiting a substantial Southern victory before they would act favorably. (Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, announced in 1862, ended any possible association of Britain with the Southern cause, as England had abolished slavery in 1833 due to a vigorous antislavery movement.) The second fact is that the CSA envisioned an empire that would take control of the entire hemisphere south of the Río Grande. The mokumentary features the victory of the South with the aid of British and French troops, extension of slavery to the North, a reconstruction era that taxed Northerners heavily, escape of slaves and abolitionists to Canada, reservations for Native Americans, Jews allowed to live on a Long Island reservation, enslavement of Chinese transcontinental railroad workers, export of Black slaves to Africa to bail the country out of the Great Depression, an alliance with Nazi Germany, a Cold War with Canada, and a return to "normality" in the 1980s. The mokumentary is presented as a product of a British Broadcasting Service, with commercials that presume the continuation of slavery. Some of the commercial products, such as Darkie Toothpaste, were in actual use up to the 1980s in parts of Asia, but titles at the end point out that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben continue to evoke the slave status of African Americans. Although the mokumentary is satirical and is intended to evoke laughter, there is a deadly serious element throughout. A credit at the end discloses that Spike Lee is the film's producer. MH