Written and directed by French newcomer Christian Carion and shot in three languages with subtitles, “Joyeux Noel” is based on a true story about various incidents of fraternization that occurred along a 700 kilometer stretch of the Western Front on that Christmas Day so long ago.  In one of the DVD “extras”, Carion explains the actual historical events that prompted him to write the film, including a tenor who performed then came out to see the troops applauding him and a cat that was later arrested for treason (and actually shot) after crossing between enemy lines with messages attached to his collar.  Unfortunately, Carion’s informative interview is not translated, nor does it contain subtitles, making it useless for those who do not speak French.

“Joyeux Noel” boasts a strong script and excellent performances from a cast of unknown actors, most of whom do a magnificent job.  The singing (dubbed by soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Rolando Villazon) is beautiful – although more than a little suspended belief is required for Kruger’s lip synching.  The sets may seem a bit clean to those familiar with the horrors of WWI.  However, as Carion points out, these events took place just 6 months after the start of the war, when most of the devastation had yet to occur.

Not surprisingly, the film was nominated for (but did not win) last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  Although not an easy movie to watch, “Joyeux Noel” nevertheless stirs the soul to contemplate both the complexity and the tragedy of war.  Its message is an important one.  With this film, Carion shows us that often, wars occur not because of righteousness or self-defense, but simply because people in power – those who remain at home by the fire, while the bakers and cobblers battle it out in the cold – deem it so. 

That doesn’t mean that war is never justified, nor that all wars (or even our current one) are similar to those fought during the first half of the 20th century, when little save the lust for land and power pitted men against one another.  But it does mean that when marching off to battle, we tend to focus on that which separates us, rather than that which we have in common.  It’s a message not just for war, but for all relationships, especially during this season of peace on Earth.
      
DVD EXTRAS:

  • Director Commentary
  • Interview with director (in French, no subtitles)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Trailer

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Various scenes with social drinking and smoking.
  • Language/Profanity:  Little to none, save one or two slightly off-color words in French but not translated as such into the subtitles).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  One sex scene between an unmarried couple.
  • Violence:  War violence, including shooting, explosions, soldiers being shot and some blood, as well as thematic and conceptual violence.