Combustible Celluloid
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With: Benno Fürmann, Diane Krüger, Gary Lewis, Guillaume Canet, Steven Robertson, Robin Laing, Dany Boon, Daniel Brühl, Lucas Belvaux, Alex Ferns, Bernard Le Coq, Ian Richardson
Written by: Christian Carion
Directed by: Christian Carion
MPAA Rating: R for some war violence and brief sexuality
Language: French, German and English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 03/18/2013

Joyeux Noël (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Surviving Christmas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Joyeux Noël was the official entry from France, though its World War I-era narrative is divided evenly between the French, the Germans and the Scottish. It depicts a true incident from Christmas, 1914, in which three armies declared an unofficial armistice for a few days over the holiday season. They drank, shared food, buried their dead, talked, sang and exchanged addresses. Their leaders later declared it an act of treason. Filmmaker Christian Carion (The Girl from Paris) has a great story to tell, and he does it in the most obvious and unmanageable way. He introduces us to several major characters from each trench and cuts back and forth equally. In the Scottish trench, we have a priest (Gary Lewis) and two brothers (Steven Robertson and Robin Laing), one of whom predictably dies, which gives the other plenty to suffer over. In the French trench, we meet a lieutenant (Guillaume Canet) who really would rather not be there. And in the German trench lies a German tenor (Benno Furmann), whose girlfriend, a soprano (Diane Kruger) worries for his safety back home. When the men unite over common Christmas carols, it feels like a happy ending, but the film goes on with more happy -- and bittersweet -- endings for an hour more. Likewise, we begin to see variations on the same scenes playing out in three different languages. Carion can't figure out how to build a narrative flow and doesn't quite care; he's more interested in the sentiment.

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