Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

*****

Reviewed by: Kotleta

Destined to become a perennial fixture on the festive TV schedules, Merry Christmas is not a war movie, but a love story about shared humanity. Thank God the script didn't end up in Hollywood.

It's 1914 and Christmas is coming to the front lines. In a snowy field in Alsace, French and Scottish regiments are allied against the Germans, their trenches separated by a few hundred feet of corpse-strewn no man's land.

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Famous tenor Nikolaus Sprink has a night's reprieve to sing for Kaiser Wilhelm with his Danish soprano girlfriend on Christmas Eve, but the contrast between the luxury of German HQ and the frozen wasteland he's left behind spurs him to insist on his return to sing for his colleagues. Regardless of nationality, everyone is homesick, the misery of war's reality intensified by memories of Christmases past.

In the cold snowy night, Sprink's emotive rendition of Stille Nacht touches hearts in every trench and provokes an impromptu pan-European concert recital, with bagpipes and harmonica as accompaniment. The consequent Christmas Truce, when the soldiers mixed together to say midnight mass, share champagne, play football and discover that the enemy is not so very different after all, will not fail to bring a tear to the eye.

Based on true events, this is a beautifully shot ensemble piece with a cast of brilliant actors who are each high-profile in their native land, if not so famous outside, featuring Alex Ferns (Trevor of EastEnders) as the Scots officer Gordon, Guillaume Canet as Lt Audebert and Daniel Bruhl as Sprink's senior officer Horstmayer. As the truce continues and they form tentative, if ill-advised, friendships, each realises how much harder war is when your enemy is no longer faceless.

Although there are serious repercussions for all involved when the politicos discover their men have spent the festive season committing high treason by fraternising with the enemy, there are no regrets and the ending offers that most precious and undervalued of gifts - hope.

Bittersweet and moving, with a mordant humour throughout, Merry Christmas, for all its sentimentality, paints a picture of life on the front lines that has an emotional truth, if not gory grittiness.

And if Santa is reading this, I would like Guillaume Canet for Christmas, please.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2005
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A recreation of the 1914 Christmas truce in the trenches during the first winter of World War One.
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Scott Macdonald ***

Director: Christian Carion

Writer: Christian Carion

Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger, Guillaume Canet, Alex Ferns, Benno Furmann, Dany Boon, Gary Lewis, Lucas Belvaux, Bernard Le Coq

Year: 2005

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France / Germany / UK / Belgium / Romania

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