Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)
The movie Joyeux Noel has in it what all war movie goers love: exciting suspenseful drama pumped alive with living characters and moving circumstances. It captures the horror of war to a degree not exactly captured before. For it shows the human struggle of conflict, plus the overall pointlessness of the slaughter that was World War I.
The movie takes place in 1914, the first year of the Great War. The opening sequence is not one of bloody combat, but rather of three children, one English, one French, and one German, in their respective countries, standing alone in front of maps of their great empires. They are reciting, from memory, a rhyme that a child might recite in front of the class. However, the poem of sorts is more of the nationalist thinking that permeated the world at that time, for each child speaks of praise for their fatherland and emphasizes the destruction of their enemy, be it England (the German child) or Germany (the English and French child). It gives a taste of the greater conflict in the movie, not just one of country versus country but one of prejudice and hatred against human, and ultimately Christian, charity.
The storyline follows three main characters into the war, one young man from Scotland, one singer from Germany (his name is Sprink), and one commander who has been in the war since the beginning. Christmas Eve is approaching, and the death count keeps rising. After being sent to perform a private concert with his love (the instance of the only sex scene in the entire movie, which could have been clipped out with no harm to the story) Sprink returns to his trench with the woman so that they may sing for his fellow soldiers. Each camp is having their respective Christmas dinners: there are Christmas trees with the Germans, as well as chocolate, champagne with the French, and bagpipes with the Scots. Suddenly across the empty stretch of land between trenches, a sound echoes, for the pipers are playing their pipes, a Scottish song of going home. As the song fades out, Sprink begins his, in German, of course. The pipers recognize the tune, and begin playing along. Soon the two sides are trying to sing along with each other, and Sprink stands from the trench with a glowing Christmas tree singing a song the pipers had just been playing, this time a Christmas one, in the one language all three sides would recognize: Latin. Soon a decision is reached, one which many of the common soldiers on both sides feel suspicious over: a cease fire for Christmas Eve. The men meet and discuss, talking with each other about home, families, wives, and everything else under the sun. The Scottish chaplain says Christmas Eve Mass for everyone (I don’t know the specifics of the Mass, like what is used for bread and wine. The movie doesn’t show it. However, it is in Latin, even if the men are responding. Maybe they were all altar servers at one point), which later in the movie he declares was the most important Mass he ever said. The night reaches its end and the sides go to their camp. However, each side’s soldiers think the same question? What will happen to them in the morning? Can they really fight each other after all that?
I won’t tell you what happens next, because its best to be on the edge of your seat during the nest half hour or so, until the end, for it also heightens the emotional impact of the movie.
I give the movie 3 ½ stars out of 4, mainly because of the pointless sexual digression, and for the liturgical historical inaccuracies. Other than that, it is an incredible movie, moving and beautiful.
In English, German, and French (watch with English subtitles on). Rated PG-13 for intense war violence and a brief scene of sexuality/nudity.