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Joyeux Noel 2005

Joyeux Noel | Joyeux Noël | Merry Christmas | Happy Christmas | Craciun Fericit | En dag uten krig

Joyeux Noel-Merry Christmas-Happy Christmas-Craciun Fericit-En dag uten krig

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France 1914. A moment of humanity that made history. Without an enemy, there can be no war.

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  • DECEMBER 24, 1914

Christmas Eve, 1914. On a World War I battlefield, a Momentous Event changed the lives of soldiers from France, Germany, and Scotland.

''If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.''

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


JOYEUX NOEL is a warming story about courage and dignity that touched three nations that went to war in 1914. On Christmas Eve in Northern France, officers and soldiers from Scotland, Germany, and France, who fought each other from trenches barely 100 meters apart on a daily basis, put down their weapons and called a truce. It was an extraordinary act of human generosity and humility - and a true event.

The story follows a Scottish Anglican priest, Palmer (Gary Lewis) who volunteered to follow his young church aides; a prestigious Berlin Opera singer Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann) now fighting for his country, and the French Lieutenant Audebert (Guillaume Canet), who has had to leave his pregnant wife behind. All of them have family ties, home-front responsibilities or loved ones who have been abandoned as they heed the call to arms. Political leaders had promised the troops that the war would be resolved by Christmas. It is now December, the chill of winter has set in and everyone can sense this will be a long conflict.

When Christmas Eve comes, Sprink's lover Anna Sörensen (Diane Kruger) conspires to arrange a recital for Prussian noblemen near the front line so they can be together. He takes her back to the trenches to sing for his comrades, and the Scots strike up the bagpipes as an accompaniment. Sprink places a Christmas tree atop the trench and climbs up himself, risking potential gunfire. No one fires, and soon sworn enemies have strayed into No Man's Land, a truce is arranged and for a brief time the Germans, Scots, and French set aside thoughts of war to spend Christmas together sharing wine and food, playing football, exchanging photos and memories and taking time to bury the dead.

These men and their peers easily find a common ground that is dangerously subversive to their superiors. Where do the holiday spirit end and high treason begin?

Anchored by an excellent international cast, this profoundly emotive yet inspiring film is marbled with bittersweet humor, bold gestures and remarkable kindness. With a deep sense of compassion in its celebration of the way shared humanity transcended the madness of war, JOYEUX NOEL / MERRY CHRISTMAS is an elegant, European classic.


Originally from the North of France, I grew up in one of the ten French territorial departments that for four years, between 1914 and 1918, was under German occupation. Naturally, this important period in History left its mark on the population and the region. I grew up with the memory of the Great War. It was something omnipresent, not merely honored on those inescapable celebrations of Armistice, every November 11. Son of a farmer, I remember as a child how I would carry a shell that had come uncovered in our fields while we were plowing the land. Even today, papers, various objects, and rusted missiles become unearthed from time to time. These objects had belonged to soldiers who were wounded and sometimes buried on the spot.

In 1993, guided by some unseen force of chance, I discovered a book: Battles of Flanders and Artois 1914-1918, by Yves Buffetaut. As I was reading it, I came upon an extraordinary passage entitled ''The Incredible Winter of 1914''. The author wrote about the fraternizing between the enemies, the episode of the German tenor applauded by the French soldiers, a soccer match, the exchange of letters, the Christmas trees, visiting each other's trenches... It really bowled me over. I called my future producer, Christophe Rossignon, to talk to him about it, and I sent him a synopsis. He found the subject magnificent. However, aware of its scope, Christophe advised me to arm myself: I hadn't even made a short film yet! After the success of my first feature-length film, THE GIRL FROM PARIS, Christophe encouraged me to focus on this project: JOYEUX NOEL. In 2002, I began with the most difficult task: writing about this incredible, but true story. My first undertaking was to research and find as much information as possible on the fraternizing and to understand concretely what had happened. I came across a series of astounding news events in the British archives, for the most part, and later on in the French and German archives as well. Mostly professional historians frequent such places. With the help of Yves Buffetaut, I was able to access these documents. In France, the army is in charge of these files. And though they do not stop one from consulting them, they certainly don't advertise them either. This state of mind seemed like a direct link to the mentality that reigned during the war: during that period, photos taken of the soldiers fraternizing made front-page news in the English press while in France the pictures were requisitioned and destroyed! As for the German archives, it was not difficult to consult them as many are still held in France. This is a result of World War II. We should consider returning them one of these days.

It was really intimidating to write a story based on these facts. The events inspired characters who truly existed, as well as fictitious people I had to invent. For example, there was Ponchel, the aide-de-camp. He was a Chtimi (patois for a person from Northern France), like me. He was an evocation of the French soldier whose house was located behind the German lines. Every evening he had to cross that zone through a breach so he could sleep with his wife and children before he went back to the French trenches early the next morning to fight the war! There was also the German tenor who genuinely sang for the French soldiers one Christmas evening. This character was important to me because 90% of the fraternizing happened when people sang. Others listened, responded, applauded. I love the idea that culture, popular songs, and music silenced the cannons. Obviously, when one reads these stories, they really seem unbelievable. However, thousands of Christmas trees were sent to the German Front that Christmas of 1914. It was supposed to be the soldiers' ''only one spent on the front'', and Kaiser William II felt that ''even in times of war, values should be maintained''! The tricky part of writing the script was how to make the viewer believe that these incredible events were true. I also had to find a natural sequence that could lead to fraternizing that went on. That said, sometimes the harsh reality was too much, or too absurd. This was the case with the story of the cat who roamed from one trench to the other and in the film ended up being imprisoned. In reality, the tomcat was accused of spying and was arrested by the French army and then shot according to regulations! I wanted to show this in JOYEUX NOEL and filmed the cruel execution scene.

Many of the extras refused to be part of the crowd. Though I explained to them that this really happened during the war (and that they would only be shooting blanks), they would not give in. Their retort was, ''People were crazy back then!'' Finally, during the final cut, I decided not to show the execution scene. It was too much. The audience would have lost interest, never believing that such a thing happened. At risk of repeating myself, this really did happen! In August 2004, after having encountered some difficulties with the financing (that Christopher Rossignon was able to resolve), the shoot for JOYEUX NOEL began. First I filmed the war scene, camp by camp. This way the actors didn't encounter each other or they encountered each other in the fray. It was very stupid and in the canteen, it was every trench to themselves. It was more of a habit rather than mean-spiritedness. And then, very quickly, we got to the fraternizing scenes. That's when things really became interesting because between takes the German, Scottish and French actors were mixed up. That continued after the shoot. A family bond on the set was very much there after that. When things started to get rough, like when the shoot was postponed for several months because the French army refused authorization for us to create a No Man's Land on the field, the actors showed their attachment to the project. But on the set, their commitment was above and beyond the call of duty. Like me, they wanted to recreate what had happened to these men as realistically as possible. It was a way of honoring those soldiers' memory. In fact, Gary Lewis and Dany Boon had relatives who had fought in the War of 1914. I am really proud to have brought them together with Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl, Diane Krüger, Alex Ferns and Benno Fürmann. They also acted in their native tongue. I wanted to make sure that all their characters were likable whatever their nationality. I felt that the success of this film really depended on that aspect. In reality, the border of No Man's Land was not between the camps, it was between those who fought the war and those who wanted the war to happen. That's why the film has more than a European dimension for me. It has a humanistic dimension. In my opinion, anyone on the planet would be touched by the fraternizing that went on, not just the German, English and French. That's why I'd like to show the film in a country that is at war. All of us who made JOYEUX NOEL were thinking about the soldiers who courageously fraternized. At the time, they were considered cowards. For me, they were neither heroes or cowards. They were merely men who accomplished something incredibly human. If JOYEUX NOEL is a success, which I hope is the case, and it pays homage to the memory of these soldiers, that will be my greatest reward.


The 20th Century was born on the 3rd of August 1914 when Europe's old colonial powers decided, without knowing it, to commit suicide. Germany, France, Great-Britain, and Russia are the major powers of these first days of the twentieth century. But these powers have more and more friction points, as their interests converge. Britannia rules the waves and cannot abide any interference in that domain. When Germany begins to build up its fleet, merchant, and military, at the start of the 20th Century, Britain turns to France which is waiting to take revenge against the Germans since the 1871 war...

From then on the pistol is cocked. Only a spark is needed (the assassination by a young extremist of an Austrian archduke incapable of the ruling) to ignite all of Europe and then the rest of the world. And in fact, this war was only meant to last a few months, every headquarter was convinced of it.

Germany counts on her numerical supremacy and speed to destabilize the French and British armies. That plan only just fails and the armies resign themselves to putting their rifles to one side and pick up shovels instead to dig trenches. By the end of September, a border in all but name stretches from Oostende to Basel. At the end of 1914, the respective armies will have had more losses than for the rest of the whole war. They do not know that this conflict will last for four years, without any real change happening along the frontline.

And this conflict will involve over thirty-five nations and make France the only country in the world to host cemeteries of so many different nationalities... Christmas 1914 will have been a particular moment in this war. It constitutes a kind of pause. It is also the end of a first part, one where each and every man believed he would go home to his family for Christmas. The conflict is stuck and headquarters on all sides begin to develop deadlier war tactics. But before falling into the horror, the soldiers allow themselves, at some places on the front, an exceptional Christmas, full of humanity, fraternity...

We fought for four years from 1914 to 1918. The debate about that war still rages on eighty years later... First, we tried to justify that the enemy was responsible, and then to foist the shame on the political leaders. Or perhaps the butchery happened because of incompetent and glory-seeking military leaders. Then there was the tragedy of the soldiers who lived through the horror. They were victims of History. On the eve, hadn't they declared war on the war? But that didn't stop them from participating and killing in large numbers. How does one choose between enthusiasm, consent, coercion? Let's review the events. In 1914, after several months of marching and counter-marching, the soldiers found themselves brusquely and cruelly immobilized in make-shift trenches. Suddenly the enemy took on a form. He had a face, sometimes a first name. The enemy trenches were often very close, six meters and sometimes even four meters. These enemies were men, like you and I. Whenever there was the least break, they would sing, drink and laugh... During these moments, they would send each other chocolate, cigarettes. Yes, fraternizing happened on Christmas 1914 and Easter 1915. It was the first stirrings, a way to take advantage of the lull in the combat. A muffled cry for peace... Perhaps... Years passed... Hearts and bodies harden... And when there was more fraternizing, specifically with the Russians after the fall of the Czar in February 1917, this time it wasn't merely a call for peace, but a call for Revolution.

*Frères des tranchées, a collection of work edited by Marc Ferro with Remy Cazals, Olaf Muëller, Malcolm Brown (Editions Perrin, 2005). Marc Ferro is co-director of the Annales, director of research at l'EHESS (School of Higher Studies for the Social Sciences), a specialist in World War One, the Russian Revolution and the history of cinema. He has also directed and hosted Histoires parallèles a program for the television channel Arte. Recognized the world over, he came to public attention with his major biographies of Nicholas II and Pétain, his studies on the Russian Revolution and of course his reflections and writings on history and colonization.*


Anna Sörensen (Diane Krüger)

A Danish Soprano, but more than anything, a woman who will do everything to snatch the man she loves, Nikolaus Sprink, away from the war.

Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann)

A tenor with a magnificent voice, a regular German soldier at the start of the war, who will give his most beautiful recital on Christmas Eve 1914, on No Man's Land.

Audebert (Guillaume Canet)

A French lieutenant who hides his grief, and fear, from his men who expect everything from him.

Palmer (Gary Lewis)

An Anglican priest who will give his most beautiful Mass on Christmas Eve 1914, on No Man's Land.

Ponchel (Dany Boon)

A barber haunted by the thought of his mother living in a German-occupied town a mile away from the frontline.

Horstmayer (Daniel Brühl)

A German Lieutenant raised for war who, thrown off balance by his men's desire for peace, will change.

The French General (Bernard Le Coq)

A man whose profession is war and who will have to deal with those men who have ''erred'', including his son, Lieutenant Audebert.

Jonathan (Steven Robertson)

Overwhelmed with grief and locked away in an immense solitude, he could not fraternize on No Man's Land with his companions.

Gordon (Alex Ferns)

As an officer, he tries to control, justify and normalize the fraternizing. But in his heart, he has a secret fascination for the incredible outpouring of humanity.

Gueusselin (Lucas Belvaux)

A French soldier who is afraid of nothing and has nothing to lose from fighting. However, he will be truly touched by this Christmas night.


Most of the fraternizing that took place in 1914 came about through music and song. Naturally, music plays a key role in the film with Nikolaus and Anna singing. But also the soldiers sing their popular songs. The bagpipe and the harmonica meld nicely on the soundtrack with the London Symphony Orchestra's instrumentals directed by the composer Philippe Rombi.

NATALIE DESSAY (the voice of Anna Sörensen in JOYEUX NOEL)

She is France's leading international soprano. A great favorite in her native country, she is equally acclaimed in Vienna, New York, London, and Japan. Renowned not only for her astonishing high coloratura voice but for her exceptional gifts as an actress, her unique combination of talents makes her one of opera's leading ambassadors. Natalie Dessay is an exclusive Virgin Classics artist.

ROLANDO VILLAZÓN (the voice of Nikolaus Sprink in JOYEUX NOEL)

He is the rising star of the opera world. Wherever he sings, the beauty and warmth of his voice and his striking engagement in his roles combine with his natural charisma to overwhelm his audience. Paris, London, New York, Vienna, and Berlin have acclaimed him in some of the greatest tenor roles as he follows in the footsteps of his mentor Placido Domingo. Rolando Villazon is an exclusive Virgin Classics artist.

  • The General's Perspective

The meaning of the truce has been debated for years.

Perhaps the most eloquent statement came from a British participant, Murdoch M Wood, in 1930 in Parliament: ''The fact is that we did it, and I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.''

There's a much more recent story, though, that shows the truce has not retreated entirely to the realm of idealism and stirring rhetoric. Its subversiveness - which every participant recognized - is still alive. In some quarters, the truce is still a threat.

Christian Carion, the director of ''Joyeux Noel,'' wanted to make his movie in France. He researched many sites and found an acceptable one on a military reservation. He sought permission to shoot there, but after many months was turned down. According to Carion, a general told him: ''We cannot be a partner with a movie about rebellion.''

He made his movie in Romania instead.

''I'm a convinced European and I didn't make MERRY CHRISTMAS by coincidence. I consider those shaking hands on Christmas Eve of 1914 to be countrymen, merchants, teachers showing the direction that Europe has longed to follow. The political world has only moved towards horror. In a way, at the time of the events of Christmas in 1914, either consciously or unconsciously, the first building block was put in place. I believe in this European ideal, it's vital not only for Europeans but also for those outside of the Old Continent.''

Christian Carion

Joyeux Noel Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Christian Carion

Writing Credits

Christian Carion


Diane Kruger

Benno Fürmann

Daniel Brühl

Guillaume Canet

Alex Ferns

Frank Witter

Dany Boon

Lucas Belvaux

Gary Lewis

Steven Robertson

Robin Laing

Thomas Schmauser

Joachim Bißmeier

Bernard Le Coq

Ian Richardson

Michel Serrault

Suzanne Flon

Natalie Dessay (voice)

Rolando Villazón (voice)

Music by

Philippe Rombi

Cinematography by

Walther van den Ende

Categories: Oscars, Oscar Academy Award Nominee, Golden Globes, Golden Globe Nominee, EEBAFTAs, Bafta Award Nominee, EFA, European Film Award Nominee

Genres: Drama, History, Music, Romance, War

Countries: France, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Romania, Norway, United States

Joyeux Noel Official Trailer

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