"Joyeux Noel" Stirs Contemplation of War's Complexity
- Friday, November 17, 2006
DVD Release Date: November 14, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: March 3, 2006 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for some war violence and a brief scene of sexual nudity)
Run Time: 119 min.
Director: Christian Carion
Actors: Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann, Guillaume Canet
On November 11, 1918, troops from every major country in the world set down their arms, ending the brutal First World War with a ceasefire that would be formalized one year later, with the Treaty of Versailles. More than 15 million people – almost half of which were civilians – lay dead. Another 22 million were wounded.
This global conflict, set in motion by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife while in Sarajevo in 1914, was heralded as “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, as we now know, it was not. WWII, which ignited just 20 years later, would leave an estimated 62 million dead, including 12 million alone from Hitler’s Holocaust.
Unaware of the global impact their fighting was having, soldiers from Scotland, France and Germany found themselves huddled in trenches in Northern France on Christmas Eve, 1914. At times as little as 12 feet apart, they fought against the cold and tried not to glance at their wounded, who lay in front of them in the bitterly ironic-titled “no man’s land.” But when a German voice begins to sing “Schtille Nacht” (“Silent Night”), a Scottish stretcher bearer/chaplain named Palmer (Gary Lewis, “Billy Elliot”) suddenly joins in with his bagpipes.
Soon, these mortal enemies are sharing chocolate, champagne, photos and stories from home. They even share a Latin mass led by Palmer. The next day, the soldiers continue their ceasefire and solemnly bury their dead, then play soccer together. When word about their fraternization reaches their commanding officers, however, all will pay the price.
At home in Scotland, Palmer is a village priest to two brothers, Jonathan (Steven Robertson, “Kingdom of Heaven” ) and William (Robin Laing, “Band of Brothers”), whose initial excitement to enlist bears a striking ressemblance to that of the Tarleton twins in “Gone With the Wind.” Sadly, the young men’s naivete is stripped just as mercilessly as that of all soldiers during America’s Civil War.
The German tenor, Sprink (Benno Furmann, “The Order”), is serving as a private after starring in the Berlin Opera for many years. In a script choice that both forshadows WWII and contrasts that war with WWI, Sprink’s field commander, Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl), is Jewish and married to a French woman. Sprink is inspired to sing to the men after his stage partner and lover, Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger, “Troy,” “National Treasure” ), arranges a nearby recital for a Prussian nobleman so that they can see one another. In a largely superfluous role (with acting to match), Anna ends up staying the night with Sprink in the trenches.
The French are led by Lieutenant Audebert (Guillaume Canet, “The Beach” – who happens to be married to Kruger in real life), an excellent officer so rattled by his order to lead a charge that he vomits before giving his men a heartfelt, but less than convincing, speech about their impending victory. Audebert’s father and commanding officer is General Francais (Bernard Le Coq). His wife has recently given birth, but because she is now behind enemy lines, Audebert has received no word from her yet. This will come later, as a result of the ceasefire.
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