Joyeux NoŽl (Merry Christmas) is a 2005 film depicting the Real Life Christmas Truce of 1914, in the first year of World War I.The film begins with French, English and German school boys reciting xenophobic, jingoistic poems:
French boy: Child, upon these maps do heed this black stain to be effaced
Omitting it, you would proceed yet better it in red to trace
Later, whatever may come to pass promise there to go you must to fetch the children of Alsace
Reaching out their arms to us
May in our fondest France Hope's green saplings to branch
And in you, dear child, flower
Grow, grow, France awaits its hour.
British boy: To rid the map of every trace
Of Germany and of the Hun
We must exterminate that race
We must not leave a single one
Heed not their children's cries
Best slay all now, the women, too
Or else someday again they'll rise
Which if they're dead, they cannot do.
German boy: We have one and only enemy
Who digs the grave of Germany
Its heart replete with hatred, gall and envy
We have one and only enemy
The villain raises its murderous hand
Its name, you know, is England.
Hearing such words from the mouths of children is of course horrible, explicitly showing us how the war developed on ethnic and national rivalries or hatred. The film proceeds, introducing us to its British, French and German characters who join up as the war breaks out. William and Jonathan, two Scottish brothers, along with their priest, Father Palmer, who joins as a chaplain, French Lieutenant Audebert and German tenor Nikolaus Sprink who is engaged to a Danish soprano, Anna SÝrensen, reluctant to see him go. The characters are sent to the Western Front and face each other in the trenches.On Christmas Eve, all sides decide to call a truce. Father Palmer presides over a service, Nikolaus and Anna sing carols, a football match is played, and soldiers from all sides share food and photos of their loved ones. However, when news of the fraternization across lines begins to leak out, the commanders worry that it could hamper the war effort, and take extreme measures to put a stop to the fragile peace. The next day, after Jonathan guns down a German, the fighting resumes. Audebert and Gordon are rebuked by their generals for the fraternization, while the Germans are sent to the Eastern Front. At the end, a Scots Catholic bishop preaches to new Scottish Highlander troops, giving them an ultra-patriotic bloodthirsty message of being on a "crusade" against the inhuman Germans. At this Father Palmer turns away in dismay.
Actor Allusion: The French lieutenant compliments his German counterpart on his excellent French compared to his poor German. The German lieutenant responds "but your wife is not German." Guillaume Canet, the actor who played the French lieutenant, was married to the German actress (and a co-star in the film) Diane Kruger at this time.
Badass Preacher: While he was as a stretcher bearer and not a soldier... Father Palmer was undeniably Badass. He went into no man's land twice to save someone's life without a thought.
Truth in Television: Stretcher bearers often were the most badass men of the unit and often suffered the highest casulties because their job was to take injured men out of battle to the back line for treatment. While it was illegal to intentionally fire on them they carried no weapons and were often victims of artillery fire.
Bitter Sweet Ending: Every unit is reprimanded for their fraternization and are all split up to fight in new areas, but the Germans singing in the train at the end proves that they will never forget the humanity they showed their enemies.
Brave Scot: Well, naturally. Special mention to Father Palmer, who doesn't quite fit the stereotype (being a non-combatant), but is nonetheless incredibly courageous in his efforts to save wounded soldiers and in bringing a few days' peace to the battlefield.
Chekhov's Gun: The Clock, Lieutenant Audebert's sketchbook, & the song the Scots taught the Germans.
Children Are Innocent: Subverted in the opening scenes mentioned above, when French, British and German children are shown reciting extremely xenophobic, warmongering poems.
Christianity is Catholic: Considering that Presbyterianism is the predominant Christian denomination in Scotland, it's a little odd that all the clergy who appear in the film are Roman Catholics.
Somewhat justified in that most French and many Germans are Catholic and they would know what to do in a Catholic mass, although, in this case, the German lieutenant is Jewish.
Cute Kitten: The Germans and the French use a cat to send messages back and forth across the lines.
Which perhaps ends badly for all involved. General Audebert, the French lieutenant's father, tells his son at the end of the movie that the cat has been found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death, with a very serious face. This might count as a Shoot The Cat moment, along with the scene where the Prussian Crown Prince crushes the harmonica featured prominently when everyone was singing Christmas carols.
A Father to His Men: All three lieutenants, to some extent, but Audebert is the most obvious example. He is determined to stay alongside his men even during the most suicidal offensives, he is always polite to his subordinates, and twice he cradles a fallen soldier.
Foregone Conclusion: None of the characters are very likely to survive the carnage of the next four years, but in particular, Horstmayer is Jewish. And in what appears to be a thinly-veiled allusion to his eventual fate should he survive the war, the last scene of the film shows the Kronprinz, a future Nazi sympathiser, apparently passing an anti-Semitic comment before sending Horstmayer and his men to Eastern Europe in cattle cars. Yeah.
Whether the Prussian Crown Prince was to become an actual Nazi sympathiser is a bit questionable. Many German monarchists and right-wingers would side with the Nazis in 1920s, as he did, only to violently oppose them in 1930s and 1940s—including the plotters of the July 20th Incident. It is known that, both the crown prince and the former Kaiser were appalled by the violent anti-semilitism of the Nazis by 1930s, and furthermore, in the movie itself, the Crown Prince makes no explicit mention of Horstmayer's Jewishness, at least in the US version of the film, only that Horstmayer is undeserving of the medal that he wears.
Ironic Juxtaposition: Dramatic example. After the mass, with Christmas spirits running high, Nikolaus and Anna settle down to sleep, embracing happily beneath a blanket in the trenches. Cut to Jonathan lying in the snow, holding his dead brother.
Kickthe Dog: Or, crush the harmonica under the boot, by the Prussian Crown Prince as he dresses down the German soldiers who are being reassigned to the Eastern Front.
Magic Music: Of a sort. Sprink's singing certainly casts a spell.
Mistaken Nationality: When Nikolaus goes "over the top" singing Adeste Fideles, he finishes by calling out, "Guten Abend Englšnder!", to which an amused Scot replies, "Good evening, Germans. But we're not English, we're Scottish!"
The ch‚telains assume that Danish Anna is German. To be fair, she does initially address them in German, before switching to French. And the actress is German.
Not So Different: People on all sides show this as they celebrate the holidays together.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: One of these is given to each of the commanders of each army. Not a single one of 'em does anything but show how foolish and out of touch the high command is, and how messed up the war, and by extension all war, is.
Pet the Dog: One of the figures of high command ( Audebert's father), ends up accepting that he and his son's view differ on the matter and, when learning that he has a grandson now, says "Let's both try to survive the war for his sake."
Reality Is Unrealistic: Many said the sermon by the Scots Catholic bishop was "unreal" and "over the top." In fact it was taken from a real sermon, though by an Anglican bishop in Westminster Abbey. That actually makes it worse, as far more heard it. Here is the sermon, read it and weep:
Bishop: "Christ our Lord said, 'Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.' The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God's help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won't have to be done again. The Lord be with you."
All: "And also with you."
Bishop: "May God Almighty bless you. The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Screw Destiny: More of a "screw the church," but Father Palmer definitely has this after he overhears the above sermon, leaving his cross on a stand as he walks out the door.