Some of you may have been anticipating a review of the Gerard Butler-Jessica Biel romcom Playing for Keeps this week, but between the film’s dismal 2% Rotten Tomatoes score and reports that it’s got an abundance of raunchy humor, I’m skipping it. What I do have for you is a gritty and uplifting Christmas film that is radically different from most others.
JOYEUX NOEL (2006)
It’s Christmas Eve on the battlefront. Both sides have seen heavy casualties and soul-numbing violence. Amidst the cold and despair, someone starts singing “Silent Night.” Their comrades join in and, to their shock, so do their enemies in their foreign tongue. As hostilities cease for the night, enemies become friends as soldiers bond over their common humanity, pains, hopes, and faith. Based on the true story of a WWI ceasefire between English, German, and French troops, the brilliant Joyeux Noel (“Merry Christmas” in French) treads a fine balance between grit and tenderness, despair and faith, barbarity and humanity. As such, it’s a poignant and hard-hitting film that can be enjoyed year round, but works especially well as an alternative and thoughtful Christmas movie.
The story is well-known, but by examining the events leading up to and following this brief truce, Joyeux Noel provides welcome details about this fascinating piece of history. By juxtaposing the harsh reality of war with mankind’s potential to love one another and find common ground, the film marvelously embodies the holiday spirit. It examines the capacity of humanity, and religion, to inspire and to destroy. The acting (in English, French, and German) is superb and the filmmaking is raw and grounded. One could argue that the film has too much bitter mixed in with the sweet, but by refusing to tell the tale in melodramatic or sanitized fashion, the filmmakers find a realistic tone that makes the story that much more powerful. Viewers may also be interested in the excellent book about this true story. (Note: Joyeux Noel is rated PG-13 and has content that discerning viewers should be aware of. Please scroll down to the content overview for more info).
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Joyeux Noel is rated PG-13. It has plentiful war violence, and although it’s not particularly bloody, it is intense. Some moderate profanity is scattered throughout. There’s a short love scene between a couple whose marital status is ambiguous. We fast-forwarded the scene, but the revew by Christianity Today says that there are brief glimpses of obscured nudity.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Peace can come between enemies if we lay down our arms (or tendencies towards judgement, hatred, and revenge) to let God and brotherhood into our hearts (Alma 24:20-27). There are false teachers who deny the Lord and his Gospel of love (2 Peter 2:1; 2 Nephi 28:9) teaching instead that which does not edify (D&C 50:23) and has a spirit of contention and hatred (3 Nephi 11:29-30). They are not of God; true disciples of Jesus Christ love and serve everyone they meet (Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 20:26-28).
“BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES…”
“The message is powerful with storytelling to match” – VARIETY
“A moving and surprisingly sophisticated meditation on the definition of moral duty” – WASHINGTON POST
“There is timely power in what we see….When they emerge from hiding to shake hands and wish each other well, the full insanity of war hits home” – CHRISTIAN-SCIENCE MONITOR