Waitsel's Review of Joyeux Noel

Joyeux Noel

Review by Waitsel Smith

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5 Stars - Best Foreign Film (French - 2005) - starring Diane Kruger (singing voice by Natalie Dessay), Benno Furmann (singing voice by Rolando Villazon), Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Dany Boon, Daniel Bruhl, Lucas Belvaux, Alex Ferns; written and directed by Christian Carion - Nord-Ouest Productions, Senator Film Produktion, The Bureau

On Christmas Eve, 1914, five months after the start of World War 1, three lines of trenches face off within yards of each other in the snowy French countryside: the Prussians against the Scots and French. One of the Prussians is a famous tenor named Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann - In Darkness, Northface, The Princess & The Warrior). His wife is a beautiful soprano, Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger - Unknown, Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure, Troy). Somehow, Nikolaus gets permission to spend Christmas Eve with Anna in a town nearby, if they will agree to sing for the Prussian crown prince. After spending a brief time by themselves, and then performing their concert for the prince, Nikolaus decides he wants to go back and sing for his men. But Anna won't hear of it unless he takes her along. After much convincing, he agrees.

Joyeux Noel starring Benno Furmann as Nikolaus

Back at the front, an incredible thing happens: as Nikolaus sings to the Prussian soldiers in their trenches, the Scots accompany him on the bagpipes from their side. This inspires Nikolaus to come out of his trench and to sing in clear view of the enemy, who could easily pick him off. When they don't, he decides to grab a lighted Christmas tree and head out into no man's land, singing "O Come Let Us Adore Him" as he goes. Soon his officer, played by Daniel Bruhl, follows him out, calling him to come back to his trench. Then the Scottish officer (Alex Ferns) joins them out in no man's land, soon followed by the French officer (Guillaume Canet). As their men watch unbelievingly, they shake hands, share a bottle of champagne and decide on a cease fire for the night.

Joyeux Noel starring Benno Furmann and Diane Kruger

This scene is unbelievable. Benno Furmann pulls it off with great emotion. One of the things that make this scene so incredible is the intensity of the fighting and shelling that was going on only hours before. And now, suddenly, peace. And not just peace, but camaraderie. For the rest of the night, and into the following day, the men share food and drink, games, letters and even Mass. They also bury their dead. They even share their trenches when the shelling starts back up, to protect each other from their own armies' attacks.

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Joyeux Noel starring Guillaume Canet, Daniel Bruhl, Alex Ferns

This movie is based on a true story. There were actually several such incidents of fraternization along the French lines on Christmas Eve. It is against military law to fraternize with the enemy; so there are negative repercussions that follow this Joyeux Noel. But while it is going on, it is wonderful, and I don't think any of the men involved regretted having spent the birthday of Christ doing what He wanted.

Joyeux Noel starring Benno Furmann and Diane Kruger 2

Everything about this film is excellent. The battle scenes are gritty and real. The performances are pitch perfect, as are the songs by the voices for the two leads, which include one of my favorites, "Bist du bei mir" (Stay by Me) by Bach. That song is especially poignant, considering that it is a duet between Nikolaus and Anna, which they sing to each other in the presence of the crown prince, knowing they may never see each other again. Script and direction are by Christian Carion, who doesn't have a lot of credits to his name, but this one is certainly notable. Overall, the film is touching and inspiring. Within the horrors and insanity of war, there was a night of joy and brotherhood, if not God's presence and wonder.

Waitsel's Review of Joyeux Noel written and directed by Christian Carion

This film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes, but lost to what I am guessing were lesser films. The Christian theme was probably too much for the Academy and Press Corps to handle. Even though it was made in 2005, this film is holding up well and is already considered a classic.

Joyeux Noel starring Guillaume Canet

Even though this is a French film, most of the scenes are in English. When they're in one of the other three languages used (French, German and Latin), subtitles are provided.

Joyeux Noel - Daniel Bruhl and Alex Ferns

Most memorable lines:

"We were talking about a cease fire, for Christmas Eve. What do you think? The outcome of this war wont be decided tonight. I don't think anyone would criticize us for laying down our rifles on Christmas Eve." - Gordon (Scottish Commander)

Rated PG-13


Waitsel Smith, January 21, 2014

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Text © 2014 Waitsel Smith. Photos © Nord-Ouest Productions. All Rights Reserved.

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