[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B006GP30M8][/pullquote] Christmas Eve, 1914. A group of Scottish soldiers in a trench in Northern France strike up a song to cheer their spirits. A few hundred yards away across no man’s land, a German singer picks up the tune, and steps out up out of his trench. A French officer, struggling to believe what he has seen, comes and joins them. The three groups agree a ceasefire for Christmas, and the men all leave the trenches to share food and drink and some Christmas spirit.
Joyeux NoÑ‘l is loosely based on a number of events of this kind that took place at various points on the front lines of the First World War at Christmas time in 1914. Events are viewed from all sides of the conflict “ there are two or three key characters on each side; for the Scots a troubled young soldier who’s beloved brother has just died, and a volunteer stretcher bearer and priest. In the French camp is Lieutenant Audeber (Guillaume Canet) who had to leave his heavily pregnant wife to go to war, and who is unable to get any news of his child. His aide de camp, meanwhile, is tormented by the knowledge that his family home is just a few miles away, though completely unreachable. On the German side is Sprink, a famous singer before the war. It’s he that leads the singing along with his lover Anna (Diane Kruger) who has found herself in the trenches on this night, singing for some of the soldiers.
Joyeux NoÑ‘l’s action takes place almost entirely in the three trenches and the space between them. After an initial attack, the majority of the film covers the events of the 24th and 25th of December, when the unofficial ceasefire is in place. It makes for a strange viewing experience “ any student of story will tell you that conflict is at the heart of narrative. But this film is about a brief period when characters who are overwhelmed by conflict find a chance to put it to one side, if only briefly, and find a little peace. In doing so, they recover their own humanity, while discovering the humanity of their enemies. It’s extremely moving, and also very sad “ everyone knows that this ceasefire can only be temporary and that they will have to return to the realities of war in a day or so. The fact that this truce won’t save any lives in the long run only makes it more poignant. And there will be consequences for all involved – the powers that be are strongly against any kind of fraternisation with the enemy.
Joyeux NoÑ‘l is a strange mixture of understated and heavy handed “ the plotting throughout is very low key, and the way details of the main characters are gradually leaked out through events and conversations is beautifully handled. However, no such light touch is on display in terms of putting across the film’s moral of the futility of war, and how getting to know your enemies makes you realise how similar they are to you (as laudable as these morals are).