04.24.2009

Joyeux Noël

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:00 pm

A few weeks ago my lovely wife and I watched the 2005 film Joyeux Noël (“Merry Christmas” in French)–her for the second time, me for the first. (Incidentally, we’ve been loving our subscription to Netflix and I’d heartily recommend it to anybody who enjoys watching a lot of movies.) Joyeux Noël is the story of the “Christmas Truces” during World War I, where soldiers on both sides left their trenches and met together in no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1914. It was a superlative film–the acting and cinematography were top-notch, and it was emotionally powerful while never falling into sentimentality.

I don’t have much to say about the score, but I loved how music was portrayed in the movie as a force that brings people together. The truces were initiated when the German soldiers started singing carols on Christmas Eve, and were responded to by the other side singing carols back; in the movie (which takes a bit of historical license while still representing the spirit of the story) the Scottish soldiers start playing on their bagpipes, and are answered by the Germans singing “Silent Night.” Cautiously, the Scottish soldiers begin playing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and a German tenor rises from his trench and crosses no man’s land, singing along. It’s a powerful moment. Later, the Scottish chaplain holds a Mass, and the German tenor’s wife (who has come along to raise the troops’ morale) sings an “Ave Maria” to a transfixed crowd of all the soldiers: a great illustration of the power of beauty in a horrifically ugly situation.

The movie is a powerful testimony to how music can transcend race and culture and differences to unite people, and it garners my highest admiration and recommendation.

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