Greetings all, Christmas is upon us. The air is rife with the joys of commercialism and the false sentimentality of a holiday. Gather around, bringeth your nog, and your cookies, and your various puddings because I have a tale to tell. You see, there’s this great Christmas movie that you may not have ever heard of. I’m comfortable in saying that it’s probably the best Christmas movie ever made. So yeah the Griswalds are nice, and the bb gun nut in the 50s is great and all, but seriously, have you seen Joyeux Noël?
Joyeux Noël is a French film written and directed by Christian Carion, which tells the story of the Christmas truce during World War I. Oh, so you don’t know what the Christmas truce was? In 1914, deep in the trenches of World War I, around Christmas, something unbelievable happened. Opposing soldiers spontaneously left their posts and met on the field to Christmas it up with “sworn enemies.” No kidding, Germans exchanged gifts with Brits, the French played football with Germans, they had shared Christmas services, shared burial ceremonies, and left learning that the so called “monsters” on the opposing side were actually human, with the same fears, hopes, and longings as them. It sounds like something that could only take place in a movie, but actually happened. Consequently, this is a subject that could easily spiral into saccharine schlock, but thankfully Carion has a deft hand and approaches the material with reverence instead of false sentimentality.
Joyeux Noël follows a specific group of Scottish, French, and German soldiers. We get to know the characters and slowly watch as the horrors of war slowly transform into what the Scottish Bishop calls the most important service he has ever performed. What makes this movie so special is that any sentimentality comes from the actual event itself, as it transpired. There’s nothing stirred up to add extra layers of feel good schlock, no moral that beats you over the spoon-fed head, just an honest as possible story set within true events. One wonderful thing about this movie is, thankfully, it is French, and a foreign studio is savvy enough to make it so the Scottish soldiers speak English, the French soldiers speak French, and the German soldiers speak German. This might seem like a little thing, but it is a subtle element that gives insight into how well made this movie really is, and how piss poor it could have been if made with the wrong hands.
Imagine how Hollywood would have made this movie: everyone overacting in English with shitty accents and corny writing pumped to the brim with a sugary saccharine, I cringe just thinking about it. Instead we have a beautifully put together film showcasing the moral resolve of humanity in the face of absolute horror. The fact that solid anti-war sentiments can so deftly interact with what is essentially a Christmas movie is reason enough for me to recommend it. So this holiday season I suggest giving Joyeux Noël a watch. Will it sit comfortably next to your other Christmas favorites that you bring out every year? Probably not, but for me it’s one that has never left my thoughts since seeing it all those years ago.