By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
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.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR FAMILY?
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, with obscured nudity.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
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. There are false teachers who deny the Gospel of love, teaching instead that which has a spirit of contention and hatred. True disciples love and serve everyone they meet.
“BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES…”