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"joyeux noel"

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Watching French and German soldiers charge over their trench walls with champagne bottles in place of rifles is a witty image, and evidently a true one. Spoken in several languages, the film has English subtitles. Joyeux Noel" is about the Christmas truce of December 1914 along the front lines of World War I, and is based on true events. This well-meaning though somewhat over-obvious account was nominated as best foreign language film last year. It makes for a mildly engaging night of DVD viewing, but probably didn't deserve to pick up a statuette.

The Great War often takes a back seat to its offspring at the movies, and this is a shame, since that conflict contains such unique insights into humanity's self-destructive impulses during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "Joyeux Noel" deserves to be seen in this regard, but while it capitalizes on a few points of interest, it also overplays less relevant ones.

The story is a loose narrative following the drudgery and fighting of three sets of soldiers, culminating in what takes place Christmas Eve. The German side of the story focuses on a renowned tenor called up in the general draft. His commanding officer hates him because he's an artist, useless in the trench. The French side follows a young officer who has overcome his fear of battle only to be repositioned in the relatively safe artillery corps. We also get a glimpse of a Scots outfit, exemplified by a father and a son, who's lost his twin in the fighting. All experience, for us, the harshness of war, along with the temporary truces.

The movie captures the absurdity of laying down arms for a night only to take them back up, but there are also other less readily evident examples of irony, surprising moments that reveal what it's like to have a conflict of such magnitude unfold right in the backyard. As one soldier laments early on, if he could leave the front on foot he'd be home in an hour.

"Joyeux Noel" is a minor reflection. The Great War is still waiting on a great contemporary statement in film. ***S

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