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Merry Christmas

Director: Christian Carion

France| 2005. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 116 min.


The message is powerful with storytelling to match in Merry Christmas, an exploration of duty versus shared humanity based on authentic incidents from the first year of WWI. Even cynics, who might find the idea of enemies celebrating Christmas together a bit too tidy a theme, should be impressed by where this proudly old-fashioned picture is headed: a final reel with multiple resonances for the current world. Writer-director Christian Carion, whose commercially successful debut The Girl From Paris revolved around only two characters, avoids the sophomore slump with a period drama marbled with humour, bold gestures and bittersweet consequences.
Intelligently allowing for the possibility that some filmgoers might not be aware that the Brits and the French were allied against the Germans when war broke out in August 1914, the film begins with three schoolchildren in three classrooms, each reciting a nationalistic poem about the patriotic need to obliterate their country’s chosen enemy. The story then proceeds to its central location: the freezing front in France. Career French soldier Lt. Audebert (Guillaume Canet) is sick to his stomach before leading his men on a charge against the Germans in the trench just a few hundred feet opposite. Joining them in battle are members of a Scottish regiment led by Gordon (Alex Ferns). The Germans are under the command of Lt. Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl), a smart disciplinarian who speaks both French and English.
On the moonlit night of December 24th, a German tenor and some Scots with bagpipes end up making beautiful music together from their separate protective outposts. The three officers call a truce, which would ordinarily consist of a ceasefire with all three nationalities staying put in their respective trenches. But one thing leads to another and mortal adversaries are soon fraternizing up a storm. The night grows increasingly memorable and turns into a Christmas day as solemn as it is ironic.

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