Pacifist and Fraternal Europeans
by Fabien Lemercier
- An epic and humanistic voyage through history’s secrets. A director’s fight for mankind’s fraternization in the midst of the war between nations
This film is referred to as a symbol of the development of European co productions, being Frenchman Christian Carion’s second feature film after Une hirondelle a fait le printemps, Merry Christmas [+see also:
interview: Christian Carion
interview: Christophe Rossignon
film profile], is the encounter between a surprising contemporary filmmaker and the soldiers hidden in the shadows of past times. What motivates the cinematographer is the condition of everyday men, young countrymen who died for nations’ glory during the first Great War. It idealizes fraternity among human beings, even though it only shines for a moment within the darkness of a conflict. It was presented out of competition in the Cannes Festival and it is the French candidate for the Oscar nominations for best foreign language film 2006. For Christian Carion, Merry Christmas presents itself as the achievement of an adventure that started 12 years ago when the director read Batailles de Flandres et d'Artois 1914-1918: a story about fraternization between enemies on Christmas Eve 1914. This censored and carefully covered episode in history gave the new filmmaker a story line that he developed with great zeal and with the vital support of his producer Christophe Rossignon.
Starting with the warrior like speeches given by a French, a British, and a German child, each one of them on their school platforms, exalting the values of hate and destruction of the enemy, followed by the enthusiasm of a young Scotsman when he hears the news ("At last, something happening in our lives"), Merry Christmas quickly takes place entirely amidst the trenches. In the middle of the clash of firearms and falling bodies in no man’s land – sequences that were cleverly done in order to prevent gratuitous violence and blood from showing- the armies are preparing for Christmas. The high commanding German officers give 100,000 Christmas trees, while the soldiers only think about not getting killed and killing only if necessary. It is the love of a Danish lady singer (Diane Kruger) for her tenor husband (Benno Fürmann), who is fighting by obligation, which with the help of a shepherd (Gary Lewis) and three officers (Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl et Alex Ferns), results in the ceasefire between the French, Scottish and German companies. The return to war’s reality will be painful for everyone. The soldiers only start to savour this brief period of frozen in time fraternization. Although, the film ends with the idea that fraternity lives on no matter how it is kept captive.
Backed by excellent secondary roles like Dany Boon, Merry Christmas is a classic which does not try to be innovative, gaining its strength from the emotion and importance of the subject. This has been a recipe for success, engaging the feelings of the public in Cannes with the scene where the German tenor sings his way through the no man’s land while carrying a Christmas tree, a scene which will most certainly win the hearts of the audience world wide. Besides, the successful shooting, the use of young actors and having three languages in the original version opens a new stream of perspectives for European film creativity. It must also be noted that the film has a high educational value, and the way that it tackles violent subjects without the use of it, makes it very suitable for young audiences. As Christian Carion has emphasized: "We made Merry Christmas in honour of those soldiers who were courageous enough to fraternize. Back then, they were look at as cowards".
(Translated from French)