The Amazing Christmas of 1914
by Fabien Lemercier
- Rendez vous with a passionate director, who finds the best of the crop among events that have been hidden, and transmits them through emotions
Head of France’s festival previews, Christian Carion gave us the time to explain his very own reasons for making Merry Christmas [+see also:
interview: Christian Carion
interview: Christophe Rossignon
film profile]. A fast paced dialogue with a filmmaker who is curious and opened towards a world of individual fraternizing, brings us to the prejudices of institutionalized violence.
Cineuropa: How did the script for Merry Christmas come about?
Christian Carion: When I came across the story, I found the subject to be ideal for making a film like the ones I like to make, a film with vitality, a bit of an epic, humanistic, in the same spirit as the John Ford films which I appreciate: a place where you find human beings and their passions. While doing my research, I noted how much they tried to keep the events a secret. I was somewhat anxious to avenge these poor souls, who had lived such amazing moments on Christmas Eve of 1914, by bringing the story out of the dark. I read a small historian book and for the first time I found out about fraternization. I wanted to find out more about it and came across the historian who took me to search in the archives. I also watched numerous films on the period itself, but I stopped immediately because I did not want to be influenced by them. I felt closest to ( I say this with great respect and humility) La Grande Illusion by Jean Renoir, it contains many elements on the interaction between German and French soldiers, specially in regards to the notion of caste, which is also present in Merry Christmas. This is because the higher ranking officers aren’t in the first line of fire, and this is what Guillaume Canet tells the general at the end of Merry Christmas: "we don’t live the same war, we can’t understand each other". In a general way, I’ve been touched by all the films that I have seen about the soldier’s condition, but the one I place above all the others is The Thin Red Line by Terence Malick.
Why did you choose Guillaume Canet and Daniel Brühl?
Because, they had very young lieutenants back at that time. One of the best books that I have read about this war is by Maurice Genevoix (Ceux de 14): he is a lieutenant and explains very well how heavy of a burden it is to be responsible for the life and death of many. On the French side, I envisioned another actor to play the part, but we did not understand each other artistically. Guillaume came at that time. He read the script that I had sent to Diane Kruger. I hadn’t thought about him, but after spending some time together I understood why he wanted to impersonate the character and I was very pleased. In regards to Daniel Brühl, I was looking for actors in Germany and his work in Good bye Lenin! [+see also:
interview: Wolfgang Becker
film profile] impressed me. I meet up with him and he touched me, humanly speaking. I immediately got him involved in the project even though I still did not know which role he would play.
How did you find the experience of directing such a huge project?
It was very, very hard. After Une hirondelle a fait le printemps and its two actors, the pressure for Merry Christmas was very strong. To begin with, it was tiring to speak in English everyday. Besides, we went all over Europe, Romania, France, the North of Scotland and Germany. There was an important infrastructure, a permanent team of 200 technicians. But the people’s spirit was great and the shooting went very well. In Romania we were a very closely-knit team and we were perfectly conscious of the story’s genuine nature. The actors were very sensible. We did not keep a minute of silence each morning, but because of this we remained in a very special spirit.
Both Une Hirondelle... and Merry Christmas make reference to a clash between cultures.
It’s an issue close to my heart. I believe in mixes, in melting pots. I think that people can never become too curious, it’s necessary to go and see what lies beyond, to circulate, to exchange. If you stop and dig a hole in your own yard, you become stagnant. 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 (there were letters written by soldiers that showed their awareness of a European ideal), the first building block was put in place. I would like to remember that I was quickly taken by a referendum context, but this was not the reason for making the film. I believe in this European ideal, it’s vital not only for Europeans but also for those outside of the Old Continent.
What image do you have on European co-productions?
It was difficult at times to get the film together, because the big European co-productions scare investors away a bit. It depends on the story. If it really concerns people of different nationalities, it has all the qualities to be produced in a European manner, possibly respecting the languages. And that is where you find the public. Sometimes European co-productions have been made because there was no other choice, using stories that weren’t really relevant. Here, one falls into a sort of Europudding, infected by everyone. Merry Christmas has simply respected the ingredients from the beginning. Generally speaking, I believe in these co-productions because I think that you must look to revive the way in which productions are done and to diversify our financing sources. This is how we won’t become dependent on French television.