The Great War (1914 - 1918) is raging in Northern France, as Christmas 1914 approaches. French and British troops side by side in the trenches, are fighting the Germans barely 100 metres across the freezing field. Men like Scottish Anglican priest, Palmer (Gary Lewis) and French Lieutenant Adebert (Guillaume Canet) on one side, and popular Berlin Opera tenor Sprink (Benno Furmann), on the other. Sprink's lover, the soprano Anna (Diane Kruger) uses her wits and wiles to arrange a Christmas recital for a Prussian nobleman so she can sing for the soldiers at the trenches - just to be united with her lover for at least one night. When Sprink places a small Christmas tree on top of the trenches on the German side, and the Scottish bagpipes begin playing carols, a tentatively humane Christmas mood begins to settle on the war scarred men. The officers meet and agree to a brief cease fire, and the Christmas spirit flows. But not everyone in higher places thinks this is wonderful.
Review by Louise Keller:
True stories are often the most incredible, and Joyeux Noel is as incredible as they come. A visceral film with immense emotional impact, Christian Carion's film is told with simplicity and sincerity. The notion of a cease fire at Christmas, in the middle of a bloody battle may sound contrived, but there is nothing contrived the way the events evolve. Putting the human face on war, Joyeux Noel initially introduces us to men from Scotland, France and Germany, in the bunkers of war. We have already met them in their homelands and the shock of the harsh, bloody conditions, is almost too much to bear.
The battle scenes are tough and relentless and it feels as though the nightmare of war will never end. The advent of Christmas prompts Diane Kruger's opera singer Anna to use her celebrity to enable her lover Sprink (Benno Furmann) to come home for one night. But Sprink finds the task of singing to the German officers difficult and desperately wants to return to his post and sing for the soldiers. We are acutely aware of the proximity between the soldiers from opposing sides, when the distinctive sound of bagpipes is heard from the Scottish bunkers. Time seems to stop, as we watch in amazement as the camaraderie spreads like a warm glow. Sprink climbs out of the bunker into the middle of noman's land, as he sings a moving rendition of Stille Nacht, while holding a small Christmas tree in his hand.
Three languages become one as the men from all sides unite, share a Christmas drink, play soccer together and exchange intimate details of their lives. Tears streamed down my cheeks for much of this beautiful film, which inspires, reassures and triggers our every sense of decency and hope.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It fills you - or replenishes you - with optimism for the human race, this fact based story of soldiers facing each other in trenches of death, managing to arrive at a consensus for a moment's peace and goodwill without much orchestration. The film is beautifully structured in its story telling, equally powerful in its characters as in its humanity. There is even space for showing in damning detail how badly the act of Christmas 'fraternising' was received higher up the chain of command, both in the military and in the Church.
Much of the joy of Joyeux Noel comes from Christian Carion's vision for the film; we are introduced to the characters through whose eyes we are seeing the story unfold, drawn to them whichever side they are on. The craftwork is superb, and the film's bitter sweet mood is never broken. There is the horror of close combat and the terror of shelling, the instant death that stalks every soldier, and the primitive conditions. In an echo from Tolga Örnek's wonderful documentary, Gallipoli (released just a few weeks before Joyeux Noel in Australia) we hear excerpts from letters the men wrote home, bringing us intimately into their lives.
Then there are the Christmas scenes, the two singers' sublime voices floating over the dead and the living - such ironic circumstances. These scenes are shot with great restraint and care; the moments of interaction between enemy soldiers are not overdone, but they carry such emotive impact they don't need to be.
Superb performances and an aching honesty make Joyeux Noel unforgettable - a film for this and any other Christmas.
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JOYEUX NOËL (M)
CAST: Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruehl, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Benno Fürmann, Danny Boon
PRODUCER: Christoph Rossignon
DIRECTOR: Christian Carion
SCRIPT: Christian Carion
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Walther van den Ende
EDITOR: Andrea Sedlackova
MUSIC: Philippe Rombi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean-Michel Simonet
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 15, 2005