On Christmas Eve 1914, an unbelievable thing happened during World War I. A ceasefire between the British and German forces were called. It was extended so that the units could bury their dead. It is historical event that inspired writer and director Christian Carlon to make the film Joyeux Noel.
The story begins, as does war, with schoolchildren reciting statements regarding how awesome their country is and how awful their enemies are. The point is clear, from childhood we are taught to look at the world in black and white. So many children grow up only seeing the world in such a way. Jonathan (Steven Robertson) and his brother William (Robin Laing) are beyond excited when they get the word that they are going to war with Germany.
Their friend and priest, Palmer (Gary Lewis) does not seem to share their excitement. As they run out with shouts of joy, Palmer looks discouraged. As the candles’ flames go out, we can imagine that the hope of peace went with it.
In the meantime the Danish soprano, Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger) and her performance at a Berlin opera house is interrupted to announce that Germany Is not only going to war, but has declared war. Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann) the famed tenor and Anna’s boyfriend leaves the opera house for the battlefields.
And this is what war does. It disrupts the singing.
We get the since that Sprink, like Palmer, would rather not be at war. These men, along with the French lieutenant Audebert (Guillaume Canet) are sick of war. They see it as unnecessary. These men, more so than the generals and other political leaders of the war, see the commonality of the “other.”
The film takes us to the front line where The German camp, the French camp, and the Scots are all in earshot of one another. Anna, making use of her political connections, convinces the powers that be that the men on the front line need some Christmas cheer. She and Sprink give a Christmas concert of sorts. However, the men that Sprink fights with on the front line are not allowed to attend. So Sprink takes Anna with him to the front line.
He begins singing, and shortly after Palmer with his bagpipe starts playing along. Together they sing Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful.
The singing disrupted the war.
In the darkness of Christmas Eve, in the midst of singing, peace is found.
And this found peace, even for an evening, is celebrated with champagne, gifts, sharing of photos and stories. The peace is extended through Christmas day, so that both sides can bury their dead.
But war will disrupt the singing again.
The powers that be look down on what these soldiers did. They were “fraternizing” with the enemy. They have been taught and told (since childhood?) not to fraternize with the enemy. They are the “other.” Which is disappointing and disturbing, especially the films clear implication that the Church prefers it this way. Palmer not only gets in trouble with the military leaders, but with the Anglican bishop as well. The Bishop argues that Jesus did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword.
For Palmer this is a disconnect. The film only explores Palmer’s struggle so much, but it is clear that Palmer is taking the high road. The road that none of his authorities wish to take. They all want to play it safe. Palmer’s Jesus is not one to play it safe. He is one who came to bring love. He came to disrupt war. He came to bring peace to all – English, French, and German.
I don’t know about you, but that’s my kind of Jesus.