Welcome to another day of Nerds Gets Cheery, a series in which we’re looking back on some of our favorite holiday films and television episodes during the most wonderful time of the year!
While a vast majority of holiday films are often focused on happy, joyous times, today’s pick is all about finding a moment of peace and humanity amongst the horrors of war. Released in 2005, Joyeux Noël (which means “Merry Christmas” in French) is a World War I drama based on the Christmas truce of 1914. The film, which was written and directed by Christian Carion, is told through the eyes of the German, Scottish, and French soldiers (the languages of which are all presented throughout) in the thick of battle. It boasts an all-star cast, including the likes of Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl, Gary Lewis, Alex Ferns, and more.
A war film doesn’t exactly scream holiday cheer, so why is Joyeux Noël a must-watch for the month of December? Because despite the dismal reality of the overall subject matter, it captures the true spirit of Christmas. The movie was inspired by real events, when numerous sections of the Western Front participated in an unofficial ceasefire and peacefully met in no-man’s-land to celebrate Christmas. The opposing troops sang carols with one another, exchanged goods, and even played a game of soccer. Joyeux Noël serves as an important, introspective look at the utter absurdity of war and its politics, and it’s a reminder of the natural human connection we all share — regardless of where we’re from.
As a clever way to mirror the sense of unity that it depicts, the movie traipses between the trenches of all three different groups of soldiers. This lets audiences establish their own meaningful connections with the characters, diving into their individual lives and backstories. In turn, the moment that we see them all meet carries a much heavier impact than it would have otherwise. And it makes it even more heartbreaking when their superiors learn of what they all did (or didn’t) do and force them to be enemies once more. These events may have happened over one hundred years ago, but the message the film carries is still achingly relevant to this day.
Given that Joyeux Noël takes place months after the start of a war that would ultimately rage on for four years, there’s a poignant awareness for viewers that the peace we see is only temporary. But as fleeting as it may have been, it’s more than worth it to watch and experience the intense, tear-jerking feelings of elation, hope, and disbelief that it inspires in viewers as the German, French, and Scottish soldiers tentatively begin their truce and find kinship on the battlefield.
Stay tuned throughout the month of December for more holiday film and television recommendations from Nerds Gets Cheery!