Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas)
Written and directed by Christian Carion
Sony Pictures Classics, opens March 3
The stuff that History Channel documentaries and European co-productions are made of, the informal truces of Christmas 1914 saw soldiers in the early days of World War I putting down their weapons to play soccer, trade photos, and sing songs with the enemy. The improbable, instantly mythic rapprochement was perhaps as wondrous to the troops as it is to an observer 100 years later; the historian Stanley Weintraub has spoken of "troops mesmerized by the miraculous Christmas peace, a sort of waking dream they could hardly believe." Centering on a triangle of French, German, and Scots regiments near the Franco-German border, writer-director Christian Carion's surprisingly restrained tribute spends too much time wringing its hands over the demographically correct romance between an opera singer (Benno Fürmann) and his fair lady (Diane Kruger), whose passionate affair is rudely interrupted by an impeccably confused and pointless war. Carion is no Jean Renoir, but he does strike an appealingly low key of tender, faintly goofy affinity between the combatants. Joyeux Noël succeeds in portraying its men as contract players in a ridiculous production who decide to break character, finding a cocooned, suspended moment of lucid rebellion that has no place in reality.