Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noël) Made in: France, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, and Romania Language: French, German, English Director: Christian Carion Starring: Guillame Canet, Diane Krüger, Benno Fürmann, Dany Boon, Gary Lewis, Daniel Brühl, Alex Ferns Year: 2005
Synopsis: In the thick of World War I, German, French, and Scottish troops converge at a fierce battlezone on the deadly Western Front. All that separates their respective trenches is several meters of open field called "No Man's Land," where dozens of soldiers lie dead from previous skirmishes.
As Christmas approaches Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann), an enlisted German private and renowned tenor, is called away to perform for a group of officers in an occupied region away from the front lines. There he is reunited with his wife Anna (Diane Krüger), a famous soprano.
Committed to his fellow soldiers, Sprink is given permission to take Anna back to the front for one night in order to sing for his weary comrades in the hopes that they can forget the war for a short time.
But their efforts have a greater effect as both Scottish and French troops are enchanted by the sound of their voices. Soon the battlefront commanders from all three camps leave their trenches and meet face to face.
After German lieutenant Horstmayer (Daniel Brühl), Scottish lieutenant Gordon (Alex Ferns), and French lieutenant Audebert (Guillame Canet) organize an unauthorized truce, soldiers from all sides set aside their differences and share a moment of peace as they celebrate the holiday together.
But soon superiors from all three countries learn of the illegal cease-fire and threaten severe consequences for all. Will the bond between newly formed friendships among enemies last, or will the soldiers be forced to pick up arms against each other again?
The Good: Foreign films often have a certain style and depth to them that we don't usually find in Hollywood, and this one is no exception.
Inspired by documented events that actually occurred at front line trenches in the December of 1914, Merry Christmas is a heartwarming yet sobering film about the best and worst of humanity during war.
Instead of jumping on the anti-war bandwagon and repeating tired cliches directed towards a specific nation (like ours), director Christian Carion, without political grandstanding, stays focused on the nature of war in general and the depths of human compassion and hatred.
Subtle references are also made to the mindset that would eventually lead to the Second World War, as well as the dangers of underestimating, and denying, the numerous complexities of armed conflict.
Powerful in its imagery, performances, and messages, Merry Christmas is a true cinematic gem.
The Bad: Although the scenes in which Diane Krüger and Benno Fürmann sing are very good, their voices are dubbed by professional vocalists (Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazon, respectively). The lip sync is noticeably off in areas, and even though it's not enough to make you think of old Kung Fu movies, it made me feel sorry for the editor.
Who would like this movie: Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005, I'd recommend this foreign film to anyone who appreciates mature, solid storytelling. Merry Christmas is a moving, dignified, and memorable tribute to soldiers, who, lest we forget, hate war more than anyone else.