Hello to everyone reading this post. Today I bring you another WW1 update, but rather than discuss tactics and weaponry as I tend to do, I bring you a movie review of the film Joyeux Noel (notice how the film is in italics? That’s how you’re meant to do it, as I am often reminded by my tutors!) The movie was released recently, well it seems recently, 2005, and is about the Christmas truce that happened in certain sectors of the front line. I only watched this for the first time a few days ago and I found it a good watch. Now sit back, relax, and read what I think about this film and its message.
So I thought I would start with the general message of the film, without giving too much away. I mean this is a review, but I don’t want to ruin it for you do I! That would be just mean! The film involves three regiments of the French, German, and Scottish. It shows how similar they all are, and how different the common soldier was from the generals. It certainly shows a us and them mentality, the generals all safe and warm behind the lines, whilst the soldiers have to deal with lice, shelling and death daily. Each regiment receives rather stupid orders from its high command and is also dealt with unfairly by them.
The film also uses generalisation to show certain types of people, you have the man who hates the Germans and is in shock after losing his brother; it isn’t shellshock he suffers, but just overwhelming grief, he becomes hardened to killing and in a way becomes the perfect soldier for the generals. You also have the religious element in it too. The padre is shown to be a caring loveable character. He looks after the troops and has a good relationship with them, it is also him who starts the singing and joint music of Silent night with the Germans. At the end you can see how religion is being used by the Government and high officials to create a sense of national identity. Those Germans aren’t human and are the evil that has come to attack and destroy civilisation. Total nonsense, and one that the chaplain sees, but is forced out of the chaplaincy. The war will make some men question their own faith and I think the chaplain is a picture of this. The film also has the adorable adjutant, who is faithful to his commanding officer, it has the comradeship between the troops. It shows how by 1914 the French troops are already fed up with the war (looking at the French revolt later on in the war).
Nonetheless, with all the good in the film, there are mistakes and annoyances that do get to me. Yes I am one of those historians who loves accuracy in films, otherwise I think there’s no point in me writing this. Might as well make up history for the fun of it! This film on a whole is accurate, however, it must be first remembered that the truce did not happen all across the front line, and although the film shows that, it may not be entirely clear at certain points. The film also has men lying around dead for a certain amount of time, presumably weeks/months with little sign of decomposition. I mean the faces and bodies are perfectly fine, which wouldn’t be the case. I also hardly doubt that a French General could sneak that easily to the front lines without being noticed. One of the biggest questions I actually had been why can everyone speak Latin in the church service; firstly the Scottish troops would most likely be Presbyterian and the Germans Lutheran Protestants, whilst the French would only be the majority Catholics there. This was done to show the similarities and showing that they were all so similar, but it gives the false representation here. The fact that the Protestantism and Catholics are so different makes me wonder why this was done. Anyhow I digress, the film has a message and sometimes these inaccuracies have to be put aside in order to show this message. The message that the men were similar, all had similar problems, families, the want to survive, a common faith adds to this.
The film ends in a sad way, the French regiment gets sent to Verdun (a quite sector at this point, but soon not to be), the Scots get disbanded, which is a huge embarrassment to them, and the Germans get sent to the Russian Front. Nonetheless, as shown by the clip with the German infantrymen, they all remember what they did, and are proud of it, and I doubt would have changed anything. They had influenced each other.
Whilst writing this review I noticed a BBC article stating that the football game might have never have taken place, clearly there is still historical debate around this issue. Nonetheless, even though the film shows a game, it isn’t its focus, rather than a sense of helping each other out, doing favours for each other, and generally a time of peace. The film really does bring home the despair of WWI, but at the same time, it brings with it a sense of how important this truce was, granted it was not carried out in any of the previous years but it shows how much it meant to both sides.
Another thing I did notice whilst watching the film, is the use of facial expressions. This wasn’t a film that glorified violence or death as too many films do today, but it used facial expressions to capture the moment, to get the feeling of the people involved. I would say too often today films tend to bend, twist history for the aim of entertainment, to sell, to glorify the deaths of those who went before. However this film does not do anything of the sort, but to show the stupidest of war, and to show a small part of humanity is a dark place.
To conclude, I hope I haven’t spoiled the film in any way, it is a great film and I recommend you watching it. It shows some sense of humanity, the comradeship, the guilt, the sadness, and to see the futility of it all. It shows that there was time for laughter, but time for solace and sadness. The soldiers weren’t stupid, they knew that they could and would most likely die as shown by the German soldier Spink. Nonetheless, the films message of similarity and peace and love, even during a conflict such as the First World War is clear. It shows that even in the darkness of warfare, that there is always some humanity somewhere, that Christmas was a time of peace and love, and this was observed wherever possible.
As this is my last blog post before Christmas and the New Year, I would like to wish you the reader a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. May it be full of peace and love. May we never see a conflict such as WWI again. Remember the Christmas Truce.