War is heaven...for a day
Review: Joyeux Noël
People can take the wrong message from Joyeux Noël, namely that war was simpler a century ago when most of the combatants practiced the same religion.
|Yay! I wanna go sledding!|
The point, as any old peacenik can tell you, is that all people have common points of humanity, if we look for those instead of the differences that divide us; and building on commonalities can lead to peace.
It's a brief peace in Joyeux Noël, the French nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It begins on Christmas Eve, 1914, and extends into part of the next day.
Apparently there were several such ad hoc temporary truces on the first holiday of World War I. Filmmaker Christian Carion hasn't based his fictional story on any one in particular but has probably cherry-picked some characters and situations and invented others.
The opening brings us along as Europe transitions into war, civilians become soldiers and the peaceful French countryside becomes the front line. By Christmas Eve troops from France and Scotland are camped side by side facing the Germans, only several yards away. One French soldier is so close to home he could walk there in an hour.
Anna Sörensen (Diane Kruger poorly lip-syncing Natalie Dessay's singing voice), an opera singer, volunteers to entertain the German generals so she can go to the front and visit her husband and singing partner, Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann, with vocals by Rolando Villazón).
The Scottish pipers are already playing when Anna arrives and they accompany familiar carols in unfamiliar languages. Gradually everyone leaves the trenches and comes together, their officers quickly calling a cease-fire for the night. The Scottish chaplain says mass and while the men don't all speak the same language they understand the Latin of the mass.
The next day they extend the truce to bury their dead and play soccer. When the Germans have to start shelling they offer their "enemies" shelter from their artillery. While the day is not without mishap the irony is not so much in
newfound friends killing each other but the disapproval with which the truce is met when word reaches the higher-ups.
Several individual stories are told within the larger one: the French Lieutenant (Guillaume Canet) who can't find out if he has a son or a daughter; the young Scot (Steven Robertson) whose brother dies in his arms; the German officer (Daniel Brühl) who reveals a secret that won't stand him in good stead if he survives to the next war; the neutral cat who's known as Nestor on one side, Felix on the other.
While I wanted to just accept it all I had a problem with the candles on the German Tannenbaums that don't flicker, no matter how much the wind blows everything else.
When I have to dig that deep to find fault you know I'm talking about a pretty good movie. Now if someone could just figure out how to apply the same principles to the Middle East , there wouldn't be enough Nobel Prizes in the world to reward them.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.