Christian Carion’s tri-lingual, six-character fictionalized re-creation of an actual 1914 event probably has more weight today than it did when it was initially released a decade ago. That the squabble between Europe’s royal houses erupted into WWI was not only the silliest, most futile and wasteful of conflicts that gave birth to nearly every political woe we now face in the 21st Century cannot be argued. And it was the remarkable and spontaneous Christmas truce that was committed by troops on both sides for a few hours – and the consequences they faced as a result – that shines brighter as the passing years shove details of the war itself further back in our collective memory.
The film Joyeux Noël is a collection of vignettes from a personal point of view of German, French and British soldiers that lead up to a mutual dropping of arms and fraternization on Christmas eve between two sides who have been murderously battling each other for reasons not fully understood. The no-man’s-land that lies between the two entrenched fronts becomes the moonlit grounds where tokens of goodwill are exchanged, found belongings returned, family photos shared, a game of football played, and of course, the now-famous singing of carols takes place.
Naturally, the powers-that-be on both sides viewed the event as seditious, and the film explores the consequences imposed on the participants, but it is that brief expression of humanity in the face of absurd political gamesmanship that should ring out to today in view of our own increasing Balkanization as exhibited by the selfish, logic-defying Brexit and the absurd American election.
As a character in the film says in futile defense of the event as his superiors are admonishing him, “Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren’t devout came to warm themselves.”
The holiday season calls for a moment of sanity – whatever the consequences – between people of diverse beliefs, backgrounds and cultures. If such an event can occur between two sides engaged in the heat of battle, surely there is hope for us now. That is why Joyeux Noël belongs on this year’s Advent Calendar, especially. We all need that moment of clarity to remember what’s truly important and regain our bearings before re-engaging in our follies tomorrow.