Joyeux Noel, made in 2005 directed by Christian Carion, is a French film capturing an accurate portrayal of various places along the front. Based on the true story about the Christmas truce of December 1914, Joyeux Noel is filmed from the perspectives of three different regiments, the Scottish, the French and the Germans. Throughout the film we hear actors speaking in German, English, French and even Latin during a religious ceremony. The actors all portray a character of their nationality, which adds another dimension to the character. This added level brings more realism to the film and to the situation, deepening the viewers empathy and emotional reaction. A key component of any war film is a question of the accuracy, and in this case the directors stayed very true to the events as well as utilizing letters and other reports supporting the film’s portrayal.
From the war being announced and boys being excited to participate, to the constant distant sounds of bombings and the sights of flare, this movie was meticulously researched. The film depicted the Christmas trees being sent to the German front lines, as well as the opera singer sent for entertainment by the Crown German Prince Wilhelm; though there were some creative liberties taken to add a romantic element to the film, the storyline stays accurate to true events. Since this is the beginning of the war, gas masks were not needed yet and most of the front may have not yet experienced the mass casualties that became more common as the war progressed. This is one of the reasons why truces were even possible at this time. Another heavily researched aspect of the film was the set. The set designer looked into weapons, uniforms, food, structure of trenches, and even into a depiction of a Latin mass. Of the few inaccuracies I could see, some are regarding the trenches as in the movie, the trench is not packed with men and we don’t see men displaying any signs of trench foot, a common occurrence due to never being able to get out of the mud and muck of the trenches. However, we do see men having lice, and large rats taking over the trenches. We also see wounded men being left overnight in no man’s land groaning and begging for help, like we read about in All Quiet.
Adding to the dramatic element and the human effect, all three leading Lieutenant characters were all written to be similar to each other. Something I found relevant to not just the characters but also the accuracy of the time and film was that all three could speak some or were fluent in the other’s languages. The German lieutenant spoke French and English fluently, and even spoke of how his wife was French and he would often visit the village where the French Lieutenant is from. These conversations helped to humanize the characters and show how it truly was a fight among the lower classes.
We have discussed this concept in class, how it was the lower classes actually fighting in the war and the upper class sending orders from afar, not truly understanding the brutality and cruelty of war at the front. A French lieutenant says, “You’re not living the same war as me,” to his superior officer after the Truce, and this quote sums up the separation between soldiers on the front and officers hiding in offices. During the Christmas Truce, we see soldiers meeting soldiers and building connections. Soldiers who don’t want to continue fighting, and wonder why they are fighting in the first place. They have seen death and have lived through miserable conditions since the start of the war and miss their wives. In Joyeux Noel, the soldiers have a difficult time restarting the fight after their truce and each regiment gets relocated or broken up and sent to different stations on the front due to their actions.
The biggest inconsistency I found was a female opera singer joining her husband at the front, so I surmise it was added just for the romantic element and a plot driver. A female being at the front in the trenches, and sleeping overnight, doesn’t seem historically accurate from the work we have uncovered in class. Another inaccuracy was that at one point the troops took turns shielding the opposition in their own trenches from an air-raid, I was not able to find research or letters to support this action.
The film ends with the German troops singing a song that they learned from the Scottish Soldiers, a song called Hymne des Fraternises (also known as I’m dreaming of home). The lyric, “I’m dreaming of home, I feel so alone,” captures a serious moment in the film surrounding fraternization with the “enemy”. What started as cheering and recognition with universally known songs through the trenches, lead them to meeting on no mans land and learning about each other. In the end, all of them were dreaming of home, and they realized they actually were not so alone.
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