4 Stars – INSPIRING
There are some incidents so amazing that they need to be memorialized in film. One such event occurred on the front lines of battle in 1914 during World War I. It was Christmas Eve and the soldiers of France, Scotland and Germany were only yards apart as they were compelled by their mutual faith in Jesus Christ to celebrate his birth together. Just as Jesus’ birth broke into our dying world on the first Christmas, peace broke out in the middle of a war centuries later because of His coming. Written and directed by Christian Carion, “Joyeux Noel” is the prize winning foreign film depicting this historic event.
Using poetic patriotism and symbolic imagery in the opening scenes, it is clear that Carion recognizes the mythic nature of this tale. The patriotism begins with three young boys reciting in three different classrooms their disdain for the people of the other two nations. This systemic hatred for the other nationalities is what makes war possible when other races are demonized by the public schools that educate them. It is this false perception of one another that is corrected when they realize that they are all people who love their wives, families and God.
The symbolic imagery appears when the door of a church is shoved open and the rush of air puts out the candles in the small sanctuary. As this light gives way to darkness, a young Scottish man tells his brother that finally some excitement is coming into their lives, for war has been declared. We watch as the two boys rush off to war while tears fall from the priest’s eyes. This message of God’s love overcoming the darkness of war is a fire that must be rekindled in their lives by the message of Jesus Christ.
The journey from nationalistic pride and hatred to unity at the altar of Jesus Christ is one of amazing courage and simple humanity. The central characters involved are two operatic performers, a Scottish Priest, a French Lieutenant, a German Lieutenant and a Scottish officer. Brought together by the power of a common humanity and faith, these weave a magical moment that results in all three regiments unable to kill one another.
But it is the discussion between the Scottish Priest and his Bishop (Ian Richardson) at the end of the film which shows the true message of the film. Chastised for having brought peace into the war, Fr. Gordon (Alex Ferns) defends himself by saying that this was the most important mass of his life. It is clear that the world agrees.
So often, Christianity is twisted and used by military and clergy leaders to accomplish something exactly the opposite of the peace Jesus taught and the world so despeately needs. If more “fraternizing” with the enemy were allowed to humanize people of other nations, and if a mutual humility before God was encouraged, then we may see accomplished what the angels proclaimed on that first Joyeux Noel: Peace On Earth and Goodwill Among Men.
- When the Scottish priest, Fr. Gordon begins to play his bagpipes not to lead the men into battle but into worship, the German Tenor, Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann) joins him. In that moment of sharing a Christmas Carol, unity was found. Do you believe such a moment could occur now? Why or why not?
- The love of Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger) brought life back into Sprink’s soul and courage into his actions. Who is that person in your life?
- The anger of the Bishop betrays his disbelief in Jesus’ message of peace. Do you find this to be true of the religious leaders you know? Are they truly living a life as Jesus taught? Are you?
- The loss of faith shown by the young Scottish brother who had left the sanctuary the day the candles were blown out allowed him to shoot the lone soldier trying to get back to his people. Do you believe most soldiers shoot from a place of no faith or misplaced faith? Why do you answer as you do?