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In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man's Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, Scottish and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The football match depicted was probably inspired by the documented game between the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Saxon Infantry who played football on Christmas Day 1914. In 2008 the British and German Army's sent teams France to play a game of football in honour of their predecessors. See more »
Before exiting their trench, the French lieutenant calls for fixing bayonets. Which every soldier does as can be seen. However, when fighting in the German trench, no bayonets can be seen anymore on the rifles. See more »
Child, upon these maps do heed This black stain to be effaced Omitting it, you would proceed Yet better it in red to trace Later, whatever may come to pass Promise there to go you must To fetch the children of Alsace Reaching out their arms to us May in our fondest France Hope's green saplings to branch And in you, dear child, flower Grow, grow, France awaits its hour.
To rid the map of every trace Of Germany and of the Hun We must exterminate that race We must not leave a single ...
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Writer/director Christian Carion ('Une hirondelle a fait le printemps' aka 'The Girl from Paris') is unafraid to write and create cinematic tales that touch the heart as well as the mind. 'Joyeux Noël' is a story of war and its effects on soldiers that goes far beyond sentimentality (or the opposite emphasis on brutality as found in American films) and offers the viewer insights to the responses of young men's minds to the monster of war and how they cope.
Based on a true story, the film opens with the usual callous killing among three groups of soldiers - German, French, and Scottish - who face an oncoming Christmas Eve in the trenches, the realities of fighting have precluded their getting time to retreat for air. But a miracle happens: among the Germans is a famous opera tenor Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann) who has aligned with his fellow troops in the trenches, hoping he can bring some minor sense of Christmas and understanding to them. His soprano partner Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger) finds a way to be with him in the trenches on Christmas Eve, 1914. Meanwhile the disgruntle troops of all three sectors are planning meager festivities and a bit of relaxation even in the trenches as the bodies of the day's plunder lie in the snow of no man's land. We get to know the French Lieutenant Audebert (Guillaume Canet) and his orderly Ponchel (Dany Boon), the German head of the regiment Horstmayer (Daniel Brühl), and the Scots - especially the priest/medic Palmer (Gary Lewis).
Christmas Eve comes and the voice of Sprink (in reality the tenor Rolando Villazón) sings 'Stille Nacht', rising out of the trenches to sing in the open of no man's land. Soon he is accompanied by the Scottish bagpipes and the 'chorus' of the Germans, the Scots and the French. They all emerge, share gifts of champagne and other libations, and agree to a cease-fire in honor of the holiday. It is in this magic moment that the true personalities of these warring men surface and each is seen as a vulnerable puppet of the WW I, exchanging addresses to meet after the war. Anna Sorenson has managed to enter the scene and during a communal mass led by Palmer she sings (the voice is Natalie Dessay) an Ave Maria (composed by the film's composer Philippe Rombi): the lovers have previously sung a duet version of Bach's 'Bist du bei mir'. For that moment in time the horrors of war melt and the camaraderie of the men glows and is carried into Christmas Day when all three groups of soldiers agree to bury their dead together. Of course the brutality and ignorance of war re-engages and the leaders of the three groups enter camp and threaten courts martial and punishment for the troops' lack of military discipline. The film ends in a manner that leaves the audience able to integrate the happenings of that Christmas Eve on the futures of these men.
The script is superb, the cast is uniformly excellent, the sets and cinematography are creatively moody, and the musical score by Philippe Rombi is one of the finest in years: the ending song 'I'm Dreaming of Home' deserves to become a standard. Would that everyone could see this film, a bit of global hope in the cloud of the destruction that shadows our world right now. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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