I love this film. But I love it so much that I have to have a specific time and environment to watch it in for Christmas. Just hearing the music and knowing what I’m going to see puts a lump in my throat every time.
This year, it will happen when dad finally goes to bed (probably midnight) and I have the big TV and a dark living room all to myself. That way he can’t make fun of me for my box of Kleenex and gallon of hot tea.
Joyeux Noel (2005) is a fantastic film about the Christmas Truce in 1914. It gets criticism because there wasn’t only one location on the line where this happened. For the sake of film-making and time, however, it makes sense to condense. It’s a kind of a culmination of what was described during the dozen or so cease-fires that went on up and down the line.
But that’s minor and doesn’t detract from the basics of what went on much. The only thing that really does is Diane Kruger’s Danish opera singer who goes to the trenches with her lover, a German tenor who performed for the generals and a crown prince at headquarters, but wants to return to perform for the men in his unit. I can only guess the filmmakers thought there was too much testosterone and they needed a woman in there somewhere, but I’ll still take it.
But it works, because the singing and the Christmas Trees (which nobody in the German army seems to know whose bright idea it was to have them on the front lines) travel, and then the men follow slowly, creating possibilities for more than just a much-needed break.
When I first saw it, I thought the movie dragged a lot. But then I had to think about it a moment: the pace is following the course of the men, almost like it’s following their thoughts. They’re going to start out cautious, because who knows if those on the other side are planning a crazy trick or not? As the caution lessens, the pace quickens. I thought that was interesting.
The second time I watched it, and ever since, I let myself get absorbed. I just had to let myself take it all in.
I get a lump in my throat because you have a war and then a cease fire for a holiday all these combatants share in some form. They’re miserable and far from home (when they should’ve been going back there in time for said holiday)
Seriously, when’s the whole “the troops will all be home in time for Christmas” promise been kept in the past century and a half?
The initial awkwardness just feels real. You see the Scots and French, and the Germans all taught to see each other as enemies at the beginning (the word “they” is used a lot in the beginning trench scenes). But suddenly, these groups of men who can barely speak the same language are quietly finding common ground and getting to enjoy each other’s company a bit. For one night and day, they find humanity in each other in the most inhumane place.
There’s something about how this process unfolds that just keeps that damned lump in my throat. I just get THINKING about this film–like right now–and that lump is there. It makes you wonder how even in these awful circumstances that people can be so good. It’s like score-one for humanity. They’re in an awful place that’s just getting worse, and you can see them wondering why they’re supposed to hate the people that came from the opposite trench.
And I’m not religious, but I admit the scene with the mass in No-Man’s Land brings tears every time.
I think the lump stays there because I keep thinking “what happens after?” How do you kill someone you got to know a couple of days before?
How do you go back to fighting them the next day, and the day after that, and after that?
How do you view someone as a threatening enemy and dehumanize them after sharing food and coffee and a football game with them?
How do they go back to being inhuman to you? Can they?
I think that’s the worst tragedy of all, really–these units were all busted up and the men transferred around so as to prevent this from happening again.
I haven’t had a chance to read any books on these truce events, but they’re on my list. I heard about them, though, and this film is a staple every Christmas now.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s not gory or full of shock value like other war movies. For one, it’s early in the war before the carnage and trenches became the noxious cesspools we’ve come to understand them to be. For another, the carnage isn’t the focus in the film…it’s the humanity.
Still, I have to watch it in quiet, tonight with a good cup of tea and box of Kleenex, and let the music and the scene take me away. In the meantime, I’ll try not to cry just listening to the music and watching the trailer again:
Addendum: Oh, and I almost forgot–it’s a French film but each respective army speaks their own languages, which is great because I think it’d be a pain to have the Germans talking to each other in French or the Scots in French when you clearly have good actors of each nationality in their respective armies.
So if you’re not much for subtitles, you may find it problematic. But I think it adds to the realism, and it’s a great non-Hollywood Christmas feature that captures the spirit of what this time of year should be about, but has been lost.
Peace on Earth and good will toward all humanity. Hugs to all and enjoy your holiday.