Political Film Society - Joyeux Noel


PFS Film Review
Joyeux Noel


 

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

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