Starring: Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Gary Lewis
Director: Christian Carion
Running Time: 116 mins
Joyeux Noël is a French film based on the true story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers from opposing sides who put their differences aside and left their trenches to engage in a ceasefire for Christmas.
Many Christmas movies give you a warm, cosy feeling that no other genre can repeat, but there are few Christmas films out there that hit home quite as strongly as Joyeux Noël, taking the true essence of the holiday and combining it with a truly beautiful story, based on an incredible part of history, ultimately making for an incredibly moving and affecting piece.
Before I get into that, however, I will say that this is a film that unfortunately doesn’t really kick into action until about half of the way through. While my overriding impression of Joyeux Noël is of a genuinely moving film, its first forty minutes or so really struggle to bring about any strong emotional impact, instead meandering about as it establishes the various characters on the opposing sides of the trenches.
In that, this is a little bit of a dull watch for the first half or so, often coming across as less-than-genuine Oscar bait than something truly special. However, that all thankfully changes come the film’s centrepiece, as we see the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914 played out in stunning style, perfectly bringing the story to life as we watch soldiers put down their weapons and share Christmas together, despite the horrors and hostility of war that have come before, and will continue ahead.
Starting in spellbinding fashion with a series of beautiful renditions of traditional Christmas carols against the quiet landscape of an unprecedentedly peaceful no man’s land, Joyeux Noël really tugs at the heartstrings as it demonstrates the power of togetherness and peace, and the role that the Christmas festival has in achieving that to so many people.
It may sound a little cheesy and disingenuous put like that, but the film hits home like no other thanks to the elegant, calm and powerfully atmospheric directing from Christian Carion, the incredible voices of some very talented opera singers, the brilliant performances of the film’s lead cast, and the vivid portrayal of just how beautiful even a battlefield can be when people come together.
Many genre films talk about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, however I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film portray it in such genuine, moving fashion, taking the legendary story of the Christmas Truce and bringing it to life on screen in perfect and deeply moving fashion, making for a thoroughly memorable watch that really stands out in the Christmas genre. While it unfortunately takes quite a while to get up to those lofty heights, the film shines so brightly through its middle and final acts, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7 overall.