I’ve wanted to watch the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël” (AKA Merry Christmas) for years — finally got to and I’m very glad I did! One could easily say that every piper, every musician, and every person ought to.
We all know the setting…
The Great War, which of course later came to be known as World War I and lasted from 28July1914 to 11November1918. It is viewed as being the first modern war and the most destructive.
During the first year of the war there were a number of informal and unauthorized “Christmas truces“, where men on both sides of the Western Front line stopped fighting to celebrate the holiday … and in some cases met in the middle to celebrate together. Joyeux Noël is a dramatization of a group of French, Scottish, and German soldiers. Having heard Silent Night on bagpipes from trench and the singing of the classic song by a German vocalist in another trench, they rose and met on No Man’s Land in one of these truces.
Maybe I think too much, this gets listed as an anti-war film. I’m not always sure what makes a song or a film (etc) an anti-war piece — or to say, some are more obvious and direct than others. What I am clear on is that Joyeux Noël shows that we as different cultures can set aside our differences, meet together peacefully, and share what we have in common. To me some of the significance of this film has to do with universal languages — among those I believe are math and music. As musicians we bring people together — in good times, in bad times, and bridging our different languages. The lyrics may sound different but the music is the same.
Here are my side-notes on this film — in other words, these are the not important things I observed …
To me this film looked great — the costumes were good, there were four languages in this film (so long as you count the priest delivering a sermon in Latin), the acting was good, and so far as I could tell everything was period correct. According to Wikipedia, Joyeux Noël had a budget of $22 million and brought in only $17,709,155 at the box office. This happens — a well made film with a beautiful message … clearly it did not go unnoticed, and from when I’ve talked about wanting to see it the film apparently resonates in the collective conscious … but I’m saddened that this didn’t get as much notice in the theater that it profited let alone broke even.
As a musician I of course enjoy seeing when singers and instrumentalists are given focus in a film or in a TV show — especially when pipes are featured in a film. I’m also accustom to these not actually featuring singers or musicians. In the case of this film the actors-not-singing is glaringly obvious — the lip syncing is painful. The bagpiping in this film is also synced (pipe-synced?), which is understandable — finding actors who play bagpipes is uncommon (yep, sorry — Viggo Mortensen doesn’t actually play pipes in Captain Fantastic, although the filmmakers did a very good job of making it look like he did and Viggo trained hard to look as-so). The pipe-syncing is both good & bad in Joyeux Noël. When pipers start playing and then stop playing but the tune continues … that’s bad. However, at times in this film the actors-not-pipers are seen playing and they actually do a considerably accurate job of appearing to play … so to some extent these guys actually trained — WOW!
The one other hang-up I had, or call it that if you will — there were four sets of bagpipes in the film. Four clearly bran new, shiny sets of pipes. I find it hard to imagine that pipes exposed to such conditions would be in such good shape, but this is a small thing so let’s look past it.
Okay, before I get any more into the weeds, let’s just say this — Joyeux Noël was a heck of a film — see it, it well deserves its time in the sun.
Joyeux Noël AKA Merry Christmas
- The official website – IMDB & Wikipedia links
- Winner of the Leeds International Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Feature, Christian Carion; 2005
- Winner of the Valladolid International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, Christian Carion; 2005