Joyeux Noël (''Merry Christmas'') is a 2005 epic war drama film based on the Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish, and German soldiers. It was written and directed by Christian Carion, and screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christian Carion|
|Produced by||Christophe Rossignon|
|Written by||Christian Carion|
|Music by||Philippe Rombi|
|Cinematography||Walther Vanden Ende|
|Edited by||Judith Rivière Kawa|
|Distributed by||UGC Fox Distribution|
Sony Pictures Classics
|Budget||$22 million|
The film, which includes one of the last appearances of Ian Richardson before his death, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards. It is a fictionalised account of an actual event that took place in December 1914, when Wilhelm, German Crown Prince, sent the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera company on a solo visit to the front line. Singing by the tenor, Walter Kirchhoff, to the 120th and 124th Württemberg regiments led French soldiers in their trenches to stand up and applaud.
The story centres mainly upon six characters: Gordon (a Lieutenant of the Royal Scots Fusiliers); Audebert (a French Lieutenant in the 26th Infantry and reluctant son of a general); Horstmayer (a Jewish German Lieutenant of the 93rd Infantry); Father Palmer (a Scottish priest working as a chaplain and stretcher-bearer); and two famous opera stars, German tenor Nikolaus Sprink - Walter Kirchoff - and his Danish fiancée, mezzo-soprano Anna Sørensen.
The film begins with scenes of schoolboys reciting patriotic speeches that both praise their countries and condemn their enemies. In Scotland, two young brothers, Jonathan and William, join up to fight, followed by their priest, Father Palmer, who becomes a chaplain. In Germany, Sprink is interrupted during a performance by a German officer announcing a reserve call up. French soldier Audebert looks at a photograph of his pregnant wife, whom he has had to leave behind (in the occupied part of France, just in front of his trench), and prepares to exit into the trenches for an Allied assault on German lines. However the assault fails, with the French and Scottish taking many casualties while William loses his life.
In Germany, Anna gets permission to perform for Crown Prince Wilhelm, and Sprink is allowed to accompany her. They spend a night together and then perform. Afterward, Sprink expresses bitterness at the comfort of the generals at their headquarters, and resolves to go back to the front to sing for the troops. Sprink initially opposes Anna's decision to go with him, but he agrees shortly afterward.
The unofficial truce begins when the Scots begin to sing festive songs and songs from home, accompanied by bagpipes. Sprink and Sørensen arrive on the German front line, and Sprink sings for his comrades. As Sprink sings "Silent Night", he is accompanied by Father Palmer's bagpipes from the Scottish front line. Sprink responds to Palmer and exits his trench with a small Christmas tree, singing "Adeste Fideles". Following Sprink's lead Audebert, Horstmayer, and Gordon meet in no-man's-land and agree on a cease-fire for the evening.
The various soldiers meet and wish each other "Joyeux Noël", "Frohe Weihnachten", and "Merry Christmas". They exchange chocolate, champagne, and photographs of loved ones. Horstmayer gives Audebert back his wallet containing a photograph of his wife, which was lost in the attack a few days prior, and they connect over pre-war memories. Father Palmer celebrate a brief Mass for the soldiers (in Latin as was the practice in the Catholic Church at that time), and the soldiers retire deeply moved. However, Jonathan remains totally unmoved by the events around him, choosing to grieve for his brother. The following morning, the Lieutenants agree to extend the truce to allow each side to bury their dead, followed by cordial fraternisation for the rest of the day.
In the meantime, Horstmayer learns that Anna and Sprink left without the German superior's assent to entertain fellow front soldiers and informs both that Sprink is going to be arrested for disobedience. Anna and Sprink then ask Audebert to take them as captives, in order to avoid separation.
Father Palmer is being sent back to his own parish and his battalion is disbanded as a mark of shame. Despite emphasising the humanity and goodwill of the truce, he is rebuked by the bishop, who then preaches an anti-German sermon to new recruits, in which he describes the Germans as inhumane and commands the recruits to kill every one of them. Father Palmer overhears the sermon and removes his cross as he leaves.
Back in the trenches, the Scots are ordered by a furious major (who is angered by the truce) to shoot a German soldier who is entering no-man's-land and crossing towards French lines. All of the soldiers deliberately miss in response, except the bitter Jonathan, who shoots the targeted German soldier. Audebert, hearing the familiar alarm clock ringing outside, rushes out and discovers that the soldier is a disguised Ponchel, his batman. With his dying words, Ponchel reveals he gained help from the German soldiers, visited his mother, and had coffee with her. He also informs Audebert that he has a young son named Henri.
Audebert is punished by being sent to Verdun, and he receives a dressing down from his father, a general. In a culminating rant, young Audebert upbraids his father, expressing no remorse at the fraternisation at the front, and his disgust for civilians and superiors who talk of sacrifice but know nothing of the struggle in the trenches. He also informs the general about his new grandson Henri. Moved by this revelation, the general then recommends they "both try and survive this war for him".
Horstmayer and his troops, who are confined in a train, are informed by the German Crown Prince that they are to be shipped to the Eastern Front, without permission to see their families as they pass through Germany. He then stomps on Jörg's harmonica and says that Horstmayer does not deserve his Iron Cross. As the train departs, the Germans start humming a Scottish carol they learned from the Scots, "L'Hymne des Fraternisés/ I'm Dreaming of Home".
- Benno Fürmann (singing voice: Rolando Villazón) as Private Nikolaus Sprink (German tenor) real name Walter Kirchhoff (Berlín;1879 — Wiesbaden; 1951)
- Guillaume Canet as Lieutenant Camille René Audebert (French 26th Infantry Regiment)
- Diane Kruger (singing voice: Natalie Dessay) as Anna Sørensen (Danish soprano, Sprink's wife)
- Gary Lewis as Father Palmer (Scottish priest and stretcher-bearer)
- Alex Ferns as Lieutenant Gordon (Scots Fusiliers)
- Dany Boon as Private Ponchel (Audebert's batman)
- Daniel Brühl as Leutnant (Lieutenant) Horstmayer (German 93rd Infantry Regiment)
- Christian Carion as British Medical Orderly
- Christopher Fulford as Royal Scots Fusiliers Major
- Mathias Herrmann as German Officer at Headquarters
- Neil McNulty as Scottish Soldier
- Lucas Belvaux as Gueusselin
- Steven Robertson as Jonathan
- Suzanne Flon as The Chatelaine
- Bernard Le Coq as Général
- Ian Richardson as the Bishop
Development and productionEdit
Carion's youth was spent in his parent's farm fields in Northern France, where he was constantly reminded of World War I as the family often found dangerous, unexploded shells left over from the conflicts in the fields. He had also heard of the stories in which French soldiers would leave their trenches at night to meet with their wives in the surrounding German-occupied towns and return to fight the next morning. Carion stated that he'd never heard of the actual Christmas truce incidents while growing up in France, as the French Army and authorities suppressed them, having been viewed as an act of disobedience. He was introduced to the stories via a historian who showed him photos and documents archived in France, Great Britain, and Germany, and became fascinated. He tried to portray all of the soldiers with equal sympathy, as "the people on the frontline can understand each other because they are living the same life and suffering the same way", so he could understand how the truce could have come about. He endeavored to stay true to the real stories, but one of the things he had to change was the fate of the cat that crossed into various trenches. In reality, the cat was accused of spying, arrested by the French Army and then shot by a firing squad, as an actual traitor would have been. The extras in the movie refused to participate in this scene, so it was amended to have the cat imprisoned.
Stephen Holden, film critic for The New York Times, liked the motion picture and wrote, "If the film's sentiments about the madness of war are impeccably high-minded, why then does Joyeux Noël ...feel as squishy and vague as a handsome greeting card declaring peace on earth? Maybe it's because the kind of wars being fought in the 21st century involve religious, ideological and economic differences that go much deeper and feel more resistant to resolution than the European territorial disputes and power struggles that precipitated World War I... Another reason is that the movie's cross-section of soldiers from France, Scotland and Germany are so scrupulously depicted as equal-opportunity peacemakers that they never come fully to life as individuals."
Critic Roger Ebert also wrote about the sentimentality of the film, "Joyeux Noël has its share of bloodshed, especially in a deadly early charge, but the movie is about a respite from carnage, and it lacks the brutal details of films like Paths of Glory ...Its sentimentality is muted by the thought that this moment of peace actually did take place, among men who were punished for it, and who mostly died soon enough afterward. But on one Christmas, they were able to express what has been called, perhaps too optimistically, the brotherhood of man."
- "Ave Maria", performed by Natalie Dessay, The London Symphony Orchestra
- "Bist du bei mir", performed by Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazón
- "I'm Dreaming of Home", performed by Griogair Lawrie, David Bruce, Ivan MacDonald and Calum Anthony Beaton (Bagpipe Ensemble)
- "The Braes of Killiecrankie", traditional
- Piobaireachd – "The Cloth of Gold", traditional
- "Piobaireachd of Donald Dubh", traditional
- "Silent Night"
- "Adeste Fideles", traditional, performed by Rolando Villazón (vocals), Griogair Lawrie (bagpipes)
- "Auld Lang Syne", Scottish traditional
- "L'Hymne des Fraternisés/I'm Dreaming of Home", performed by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Natalie Dessay, The London Symphony Orchestra
- Leeds International Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Feature, Christian Carion; 2005.
- Valladolid International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, Christian Carion; 2005.
- Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, France; 2006.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Language Film, France; 2006.
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film not in the English Language, Christophe Rossignon and Christian Carion; 2006.
- César Awards, France: César, Best Costume Design (Meilleurs costumes), Alison Forbes-Meyler; Best Film (Meilleur film), Christian Carion; Best Music Written for a Film (Meilleure musique), Philippe Rombi; Best Production Design (Meilleurs décors), Jean-Michel Simonet; Best Supporting Actor (Meilleur second rôle masculin), Dany Boon; Best Writing – Original (Meilleur scénario original), Christian Carion; 2006.
- "Joyeux Noël (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
- "Joyeux Noël (2005)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
- "Festival de Cannes: Joyeux Noël". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
- Weintraub, Stanley (2001). Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas truce. London: Pocket. ISBN 0-684-86622-6.
- "'Joyeux Noel' Interview: Director Christian Carion". Hollywood.com. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
- Kerr, Euan (23 March 2006). "Christian Carion gets his revenge". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
- Hinson, Mark (26 November 2014). "'Joyeux Noel' takes a break from the war". Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
- Holden, Stephen (3 March 2006). "Film Review: A Christmas Truce Forged by Germans, French and Scots". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (10 March 2006). "Film Review". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Tommasini, Anthony (11 February 2013). "Tenors Amid the Turmoil of War in the Trenches". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Griogair". Afro Celt Sound System. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
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