French, Scottish and German soldiers come together to celebrate Christmas in the trenches of World War 1 in a profoundly moving film about the humanist in all of us. It is music that draws these disparate enemies together on one cold and dark wintry night in 1914 when an unforeseen harmony between soldiers from three countries suddenly becomes one.
With a cast of Scottish, German and French actors all speaking their own language, writer-director Christian Carion has fashioned a deeply moving and uplifting piece. The film begins as one of the German soldiers Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), a famous tenor in civilian life, leaves the battle lines briefly to rejoin his lover and stage partner, soprano Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger), for a small command performance away from the Western front.
Because their time together is so short, she insists on accompanying him back to the trenches; there, the two stage a concert for the German troops. What happens then is simple, beautiful, and believably spontaneous. In the midst of the concert, the bagpipes of the Scottish regiments join the couple across the divide.
As Sprink places Christmas trees onto the field, the three commanders, the French Audebert (Guillaume Canet), the German-Jewish Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl) and the Scottish Gordon (Alex Ferns) meet and declare the truce that spreads to Christmas Day and includes a deeply moving service in Latin said by Rev. Palmer, an Anglican priest turned soldier (Gary Lewis).
Tired and battle-weary these soldiers who slaughtered each other from trenches put down their weapons to share wine and food, exchange photographs of their loved ones and memories, and even find time to play a game of soccer in the snow. Later the men's superior officers would regard it as fraternizing with the enemy and make them pay for it, each commanding officer is chastised in different ways.
Carion really manages to capture the horror of war while presenting the story so subtly that he avoids melodrama and at the same time shows the faintly goofy affinity between the various combatants. Joyeux NoŽl succeeds in portraying its men as contract players who see the ridiculousness of their situation and decide to do something about it, finding a cocooned, floating moment of cogent mutiny that has ultimately no place in the politics taking place around them. Mike Leonard November 06.