Joyeux Noël

Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Dany Boon, and Diane
Kruger star in a film written and directed by Christian

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

One of the key early scenes in this disarmingly joyous and
implicitly sad anti-war film hints at a powerful thematic
subcurrent in this crowd-pleasing WWI-era film from French
writer/director Christian Carion. In the scene, a young pair of
Germans, an officer and his wife, sing the glorious lines of Bach’s
“Bist du bei mir” for a gathering of officers, and the message
rings clear both in this scene, and later in the film: Music is
unique in its universality and power to transcend differences, even
those ominous enough to start and fuel wars. Or so this story

Even a cursory description of the film, gentle-spirited enough
to have been up for the foreign film Oscar, fills the heart with
hope. It offers an account of an actual occurrence in WWI when
enemies called a truce on Christmas Eve and emerged from their
separate trenches to fraternize. War, literally, takes a holiday.
Were this purely a fiction film, the premise would seem absurd.
Given history, the story turns notions of absurdity around and aims
it where it belongs — in the absurd yet apparently endless human
impulse to make war.

Carion is careful to cast his narrative net widely, bringing
together empathetic personal stories from all sides of the
conflict, in Scotland, France, and Germany. He illustrates the
commonality of the soldiers’ existence and emotional lives, beyond
the specifics of the conflict. As that blissful Christmas Eve truce
unfolds in the film, brought on by songs from both camps, a warm
glow takes over the screen and we naturally sense a fleeting
optimism. The film itself cozies right up to the brink of
sentimentality but stops just short of falling in.

After seeing this film at the Santa Barbara International Film
Festival (it was one of the clear hits), even through the downpour
of distractions and countless other films, this critic was sweetly
haunted by “Bist du bei mir,” even more than the film itself. Any
criticisms of the film’s dangerous flirtations with easy sentiment
seem churlish: With Joyeux Noël, Carion has clearly and earnestly
told a story we desperately need to hear at this moment in the
human experiment.


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