Joyeux NoŽl (Merry Christmas) (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Human societies seem to have some common rules, one of which is that the young men must kill or be killed for whatever causes the old men have brainwashed them to believe. This is a movie about one of the few times in our history when the warriors told their overlords to stuff it, if only for a moment. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1914, during the first sacred holiday of the first world war, the trench warriors set aside their rifles, ignored their orders, and walked into the no-man's land to celebrate Christmas with their enemies. (Wikipedia article)

As the film pictures it, the Germans first put Christmas trees up just above their sight lines, with signs that said "you no shoot, we no shoot" or "Merry Christmas." Then the Scots brought out their ubiquitous bagpipes and played Christmas carols. The French broke out their champagne. The men shared pictures of their loved ones. They roasted some pigs together for Christmas dinner, and their chaplains held Christmas religious ceremonies. They cleared no-man's land of the rotten corpses, buried their fallen comrades, and helped their enemies to do the same. When they had cleared away their dead, they played soccer where the bodies had been strewn.

This movie is a fictionalized account of the events of those two days. Peace broke out in many places along the lines, but this story centers on three lieutenants who commanded about a hundred men near a small French village, as well as two German opera singers who were there to lift the men's morale. While the fictional portions are not especially compelling, and the historical details are not entirely accurate, the film is poignant because the basic non-fictional core is so powerful that it hides any flaws in the film's fictional overlay. I suppose one could make a better movie on the same subject, but this is a very good movie indeed. It is rated 7.7 at IMDb and was nominated for the foreign language Oscar as well as the corresponding BAFTA. Don't let those nominations create an image in your mind of a typical foreign film. Most of the dialogue is in English, and anything important which is not in English can be understood without sub-titles, since it involves many men communicating to one another without a common language. I watched the film this morning, on Christmas Day. If you can do that and keep your eyes dry, you're a much tougher hombre than I am. You may not even be human.

If the part of the movie which shows the Scots wearing their kilts and carrying their bagpipes in the frozen trenches seems to stretch your credulity, let me offer a story which, while it does not prove that such a thing did happen, shows that it could have. I have a girlfriend from Central Asia who used to be a mountain-climbing guide in that region. If you have ever climbed, you know that you do not want one extra ounce of weight on your person. If you can make it up and down a mountain with two crackers and a vitamin pill, you do not want to add a third cracker. Every yard up the mountain seems to double the weight of the load. Yet one of her tourists insisted on carrying bagpipes up a Central Asian mountain so he could play them at the summit!

The real-life aftermath of the unpremeditated Christmas truce was shock among the high commands of the opposing nations. Nothing could be more disastrous for the world's sense of proper order than to have young men of opposing countries declaring their comradeship and refusing to kill one another. Why it's downright socialist! Generals on both sides declared this peacemaking to be treasonous, and all the lingering goodwill generated by the spontaneous outbreak of peace had been completely quashed by Easter of 1915, when the men would again resume the unquestioned killing of one another on behalf of their common God, who apparently issued the two sides contradictory orders. Before Armistice Day in 1918, an entire European generation was lost. Some thirty million young men would return to their homes wounded. Their mothers would be envied by the ten million others whose sons did not return at all.

As I write this on this Christmas Day in 2006, when many young men are still dying for old men's causes, it gives some hope to look back on that Christmas of 1914 and recall the foot soldiers who proved that, despite all indications to the contrary, we do have brotherhood within us, if only we reach for it.  

 

DVD INFO

  • widescreen letterboxed
  • full-length commentary
  • an interview with the director.

 

NUDITY REPORT

Diane Kruger shows a breast very briefly in a sex scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: about three stars out of four. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3/4, BBC 3/5

  • It was nominated as the best foreign language film by both the American and British academies, but lost both, to Tsotsi and The Beat That My Heart Skipped respectively.

 

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Arthouse. It grossed only a million dollars in the USA in 53 theaters. It did gross $16 million elsewhere.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

 

Based on this description, this film is a B-. It's hard for me to imagine someone who would not be moved by this film. Watch it with your families over the holidays instead of the phony-baloney sentimentality of It's A Wonderful Life.

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