Oscar-nominated French film gets intimate with diverse WWI characters

Joseph Wilson

Joyeux Noel”, written and directed by Christian Carion (“The Girl From Paris”), details the lives of four individuals whose lives are swept up by WWI. It focuses on one miraculous Christmas night in 1914 when their stories intersect on the French frontline.

British, Scottish and German troops had been fighting for months along trench lines, casualties were high, and the troops were preparing for somber Christmas celebrations in the trenches.

The raw emotional depth of the characters tying underlying personal stories with the over-arching painful war they all had to fight propels the movie forward. Such as Audebert, the French lieutenant, leading his men while the status of his pregnant wife is uncertain behind German lines. The characters struggle with their human connections during the continuing war.

The film develops the dominantly Catholic characters in mounting interest, reaching a crux during a Christmas celebration where soldiers meet on the battlefield not for confrontation, but mutual celebration. The line between ally and enemy was suspended.

The dialogue for “Joyeux Noel” switches back and forth between French and German with English subtitles and certain sections of dialogue spoken in English. This use of multiple languages contrasts each of the three military groups with each other and humanizes the opposing sides.

The Christmas celebration was only a brief reprieve from the war. As the festivities drew to a close the commanders of both sides watched the war rage on as artillery fire thundered.

The humor in “Joyeux Noel” is expressed in a natural and a needed distraction to break the grim nature of soldiers at war. The soundtrack that accompanies the film is an epic punctuation to the emotional depth of the drama, directed by composer Philippe Rombi.

The film is only 110 minutes long but lags towards the end, after the Christmas event, due to the extended character focus of the epilogue scenes.

Joyeux Noel works well as an emotion human drama set against the dehumanizing background of WWI.