Picture this: it’s the Western Front in 1914. You’re stuck in a trench in the dead of winter, fighting an enemy over territory the size of a football field. And oh yeah: it’s Christmas, increasing your misery exponentially.
That’s where the 2005 film “Joyeux Noel” finds its characters, in a dramatic account of the events leading up to and following the “Christmas Truce” which occurred between Scottish, French and German troops along the Western Front. The film follows a myriad assortment of characters on all three sides, including a visiting singer (Diane Kruger), her lover, A German soldier (Benno Furmann), and his superior (Daniel Bruhl), who could do with more sharpshooters in his company and less sopranos. Other characters include a troubled Scottish chaplain (Gary Lewis) and a French officer (Guilaume Canet) whose father is the general of the battalion.
These subplots intertwine to form the circumstances which lead to all three sides calling an unofficial ceasefire on Christmas Eve. The characters are left with an even more perplexing situation come Christmas morning, when the truce has given way to startling new possibilities for all involved. But with these possibilities also comes consequences as their superiors crack down on the truce with military efficiency.
“Joyeux Noel” is certainly neither the most cheerful nor the most traditional of Christmas movie, but it remains more uplifting than most war movies (especially most World War I movies). The well-rounded characters and their interaction with one another is certainly the high point of the film. In one memorable scene, both sides warn one another of impending artillery attacks, while in another, the chaplain finds a pretty effective way of dealing with a belligerent superior.
That said, “Joyeux Noel” isn’t perfect. Only a handful of the subplots get a satisfying resolution, with the rest receiving poignant yet minimalistic conclusions. The film really needs a post-script to explain what happened to the characters in the intervening years, but instead, the film chooses to focus more on the history and less on the characters.
Overall, “Joyeux Noel” is the ultimate Christmas movie for history buffs. While it’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, it is an enjoyable and compelling glimpse of Christmas spirit during wartime.
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