Joyeux Noel came out back in 2005. I have seen clips of it and even quoted it before, but, I must confess, I had never seen it until this year. Knowing that it depicts the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, and knowing that the war marched on despite this moment of peace and brotherhood between enemy armies, I suppose I was afraid that it would ultimately become a tragedy. It is a devil of a thing, after all, for the people who govern nations and armies to have to come down hard against something so pure and good. Such is the reality and hell of war. I did not want to have a happy tale turn into something sad. Then I looked into it, satisfied my fears on that count, and promised myself that I would watch it this year. And so I did.
I need not have feared, for even as it wrapped up with the reaction of the world, of figures in power striving to snuff out this rare and precious light – and I was personally angered by the perversion of holy scripture to encourage slaughter and hatred – it ended on a quiet, humble, defiant note that promises to remember the lesson of the Truce, and carry that light on forever, even through the Hell of war. It is truly inspirational.
And exceptionally well-crafted, too. It is anything but easy to balance the intertwining stories of so many people so well, but they did a brilliant job of it here. The movie follows a multitude of threads simultaneously, each of them filled with real, relatable characters who the audience is able to understand, each with their own motivations and obstacles, with such efficiency, artistry, and grace that it makes it look easy. I am floored by the level of craft that entails.
The movie is so realistic, as we are brought to the trenches of the Great War, in the remote fields of France and the blood-soaked border of No Man’s Land, that it extends even to the soundtrack. If I recall correctly, then only the very beginning and end of the movie have any kind of external music. The rest of it is all made by the characters within the movie itself. They are the ones doing the singing of songs and the playing of music on Christmas Eve. One can really see how music is a universal language, bringing together people who know different lyrics that have the same meaning, with the same tune.
Side-note: God bless whoever came up with subtitles! As there were at least three or four different languages being spoken, I would have been totally lost without them!
Speaking of languages, I must admit, as my own faith has spread around the world, through so many languages, I can see a certain appeal to the Catholic practice of conducting their Mass in Latin. It’s a dead language, but it’s used across many different countries, so people who can scarcely understand each other are able to come together as one, a diverse but unified body worshiping their Lord.
Which goes further into the point of the movie, that the enemy is not so different – indeed that the enemy is really our brother in the eyes of God – as one higher-ranked Catholic official says that the Germans are not like them, that they don’t think or act like them, and yet the falsehood of that was proven when Germans, French, and Scottish Catholics alike all intoned the same Latin words in perfect unison at a Mass they shared as one on Christmas Eve.
If this were a fictitious story, the Christmas Truce might well have had such a cascading effect that the soldiers on both sides simply refused to fight any more, ending the war in love, harmony, and forgiveness. Alas, the real world could not allow that. But this film cuts through the dogmatic lies that separate people into hostile camps, insisting that there is no coexistence to be found. The world would be a lot happier if good people were simply allowed to exist alongside one another, instead of being sent to kill each other, to suffer and die, by those who sit fat and happy in the halls of power.
All of this is conveyed in simple but powerful ways, and with so many languages and so little music at play, one must give a standing ovation to the actors. It’s one thing to give a commanding, emotional performance that one knows will have a soundtrack to enhance whatever one is bringing to the role, but to do so without one, and across language barriers, is nothing short of phenomenal. These performances were magnificent.
Joyeux Noel is, in short, a most worthy addition to anyone’s library of Christmas movies. Every aspect of it speaks to the passion and masterful craftsmanship of those who made it, as the movie speaks softly but clearly in praise of the true Christian spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind.
All this time I waited, and put it off, and now it is one of my favorites.
Rating: 10 stars out of 10.