Joyeux Noel

on November 11, 2005 by Wade Major
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One of the most mythologized war stories of all time gets a profoundly earthbound, humanistic treatment in writer/director Christian Carion's Oscar-nominated "Joyeux Noel," a fictionalized account of the factual 1914 Christmas truce whereupon Scottish, French and German soldiers fraternized, caroled and played battlefield soccer.

It's fortunate that the backdrop is World War I: Less overtly principled than World War II, it was also a conflict whose divisions ran more along class lines than borders. As such, it's easy to sympathize with the common enlisted men whom Carion places in the path of their superiors' ambitions -- an eager pair of Scottish brothers (Steven Robertson and Robin Laing) and their parish priest (Gary Lewis), a German opera singer (Benno Furrman) and his Danish lover (Diane Kruger), a French lieutenant (Guillaume Canet) with an aversion to combat and a stern young German field commander (Daniel Bruhl) who happens also to be Jewish. And yet Carion doesn't play up the story's magnanimity -- this is no museum piece, no dusty homage to the nobility of a bygone generation of warriors. These are, by and large, average men, put upon and faced with trials that are, for all intents and purposes, no different than those which might be faced by any number of present-day soldiers throughout the globe. Given the current state of affairs in the world, it may seem a bit naïve of Carion to even attempt drawing any modern-day parallels -- things are clearly not what they once were. The very thought of battlefield honor today seems absurd in the extreme. But this, too, may be Carion's message -- that honor and decency need not wait for the negotiations of politicians and bureaucrats; in the hands of right-minded men and women, they can emerge on the battlefield. Starring Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Daniel Bruhl, Lucas Belvaux, Bernard Le Coq and Ian Richardson. Directed and written by Christian Carion. Produced by Christophe Rossignon. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. French-, German- and English-language; subtitled. Rated PG-13 for some war violence and brief sexuality. Running time: 115 min

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