I normally end up watching movies alone late at night. The Skimmer and Blue Kid are extremely prejudiced against the movies I tend to want to see. They say I like psycho, crazy murder movies or gut-wrenching movies that send you into a state of depression for weeks. If I pop in a DVD, that will normally send both of them running from the room. Fine by me. I happen not to like the movies they tend to want to see. For some reason, sword fighting dragons, cyclopes people who can fly, or anything having to do with trees that spout philosophy just doesn't do it for me.
You're going to the video store? Will you get me a movie?
What morose, depressing, God-awful movie do you want?
I don't know. Just get something real. No cyclopes flying people!
A half hour later...
What'd you get?
Oh. I got the perfect thing for you! It's about war and death. Senseless killing and sadness. I'm sure there'll be lots of blood and deep dialogue. It's going to be goopy and sentimental. It's right up your alley! Here. I'm going upstairs.
The Skimmer handed me Joyeux Noel. I had never heard of it, but from reading the back of the DVD case, The Skimmer was correct. It was right up my alley.
Joyeux Noel tells the story of the Scottish, French and German soldiers who, during World War One, agree to a truce on Christmas Eve, 1914. After bloody battles that leave No Man's Land scattered with dead bodies, each side lays down their weapons for an evening and a few days of peace, sharing champagne, chocolates and photos of their wives.
She is very beautiful.
Yes, she is. Do you have a picture of your wife?
Here she is.
Ahhhh, she's pretty. He holds the photo up to his lips ... Smooch, smooch, smooch!
They all laugh and raise their bottles.
On the German side, there is a famous tenor, Nikolaus Spink, who has been called up to be a soldier, and his partner, Anna, has joined him in the trench to sing for his men on Christmas eve. These two have a few beautiful scenes together, although I thought Spink, played by Benno Furmann was a tad melodramatic in his posture. A few times throughout the movie, he brought to mind the cartoon character, American Dad, with the same square jaw line and sense of self importance. Anna, on the other hand, played by Diane Kruger, was wonderful. Beautiful in her strength and support for Spink. In one scene where they are singing a duet, Spink's voice falters because of the stress he's been under and Anna sets her gaze upon him, giving him the strength to continue.
On the British side, there are two Scottish brothers who excitedly rushed off for basic training the minute they heard the war was on.
Finally! Our lives will have meaning!
When their priest witnesses their excitement at the beginning of the movie, his facial expression portends the devastation and destruction to follow. He joins them at the front, signing up to be a stretcher-bearer.
The French are led by lieutenant Audebert, whose superior officer is his father and whose wife is stuck behind enemy lines and pregnant with their first child. The lieutenant is more than aware of the futility of his mission and while giving his men marching orders, ends by saying ... Just do as I say. I, too, want to be home for Christmas. His men, listening somewhat pensively, had no idea that their lieutenant had thrown up when preparing himself before coming out to speak to them.
On Christmas eve, as all of the soldiers sit in their trenches, just feet from each other, cold, lonely and dreaming of home, the priest begins to play his bagpipes. It's a weighty, solemn scene as the other Scottish soldiers begin to sing along. When the first song comes to an end, Spink, the famous tenor, responds by singing Silent Night and slowly leaves his trench, risking being killed. Gradually, all the soldiers emerge from their trenches and end up getting to know one another. So much so, that when hostilities resume, they feel the need to protect each other, and do.
While the movie's primary message is heartwarming and uplifting, making me proud of how human beings can choose to behave towards each other in the worst of times, it also has a dark message. No good deed goes unpunished. When the soldier's superiors find out about the truce it is not looked highly upon and the soldiers are punished accordingly. That was devastating to me.
One of my very favorite things about watching a gut-wrenching movie late at night, all alone is that quiet time when the movie ends and the credits roll. Especially if the music that's playing fits the movie perfectly, which the score to Joyeux Noel, composed by Philippe Rambi, most certainly did.
As Thème de l'absence washed over me, I thought about all that senseless killing so many years ago and how it's still going on today. How, on one side, there were men who put their humanity first and came together to celebrate life. And how, on the other side, their superiors were disgusted by their behavior, accusing them of being traitorous and lowly, even in the eyes of God.
...don't feel shy encouraging a score that dares to impress, surprise, and touch the coldest of hearts on the coldest of all nights.
The same could be said of Joyeux Noel. Rent it. It will warm your heart.