Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A remarkable thing happened on the front lines of trench warfare in WW1. German soldiers on one side and French and Scottish soldiers on the other laid down their weapons and declared a truce for Christmas, 1914.

Which is the premise for the wonderful Joyeux Noël, a well done, although romanticized view of what happened back then. It's got an international cast that I wasn't familiar with who did a uniformly excellent job, and it's partially subtitled as the story is presented from all points of view. I had wondered for some time when this story was going to be told.

By Christmas the western front had devolved down to hated trench warfare where lines of opposing armies dug ditches, sometimes within shouting distance from one another, and lived in them. Initial patriotic fervor had disappeared. The winter was wet and harsh so the soldiers related to each others' plight. Command on both sides had generously supplied their men with goodies so they had lots to spare. Sporadic truces spontaneously happened but Xmas eve and the following several days saw thousands of men converge in no man's land to exchange gifts and even play some soccer. It was organic in nature with some spots instantly getting back to warfare and others refusing to fight well into 1915. And the higher ups despised it.

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The movie humanizes the incident by focusing on a few of the participants, which needed to be done unless they wanted it to be a documentary. As I said, the truce was probably a lot more practical in nature than this romantic version - dead bodies needed to be buried and trenches had to be repaired, but one of the most extraordinary episodes of WW1 is presented in this well crafted and timely flick.


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