Merry Christmas


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Joyeux Noel
"The script's immaturity compares to a high school short story, serving to dilute the true stories." | Photo: UniFrance

Apt anti-war and religious crusade sentiments aside, Merry Christmas is a difficult film to enjoy, thanks to its blunt writing. However, it's handsomely crafted, well shot and as deeply felt as it is naive.

Early on, the film establishes itself as a multilingual picture with a skilfully handled camera move. The viewer tracks through a classroom towards a child who recites a propaganda poem about the evils of their wartime enemies. A swift fade and the child speaks in French and then German. It's one of a series of deft directorial touches by Christian Carion to simply and swiftly initiate the audience.

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Merry Christmas introduces us to a series of characters, given life and breath by an exceptional international cast. There is a pair of brothers from Scotland, with their local Anglican priest, and a stretcher bearer (Gary Lewis) who is fiercely protective of them. There are the French, including Lt. Audebert (Guillaume Canet), a creative and internalised officer and leader. There is Anna Sorenson (Diane Kruger), a Danish soprano, who loves and misses Nikolaus Sprink, a German tenor, conscripted into the army. Lt Horstmayer leads the German front, a man with a singular focus on winning the war.

After the introductions, we are delivered into the hands of a French and Scottish advance in the dizzying trench combat. Carion is guilty of pilfering from Saving Private Ryan, with his hand-held shaky camera and 45-degree shutter. The prodigious letting of blood is not especially in evidence, but it's relatively horrible compared to what is to come.

Christmas approaches and the men are preparing. In a funny turn of events, the Kaiser's government ships 10,000 Christmas trees as a gift to their men ("One every ten metres"). Anna and Nikolaus are invited to give a recital for their commanders, to remind them of Berlin, during which they have gentle, anticipated and passionate sex.

After the performance before the German high command, Nikolaus returns to the front line. The men sing carols and the Scots contingent joins in with their pipes. If there was a trace of fatal irony, the film's spell would break, but suddenly somehow it makes sense to walk across no man's land. Nikolaus sings Adeste Fideles at the top of his lungs, with a lit Christmas tree in his hands.

All three commanders agree to a cease fire over Christmas and the men congregate in a celebration of chocolates, cigarettes and wine, sharing photographs of their loved ones. They hold a mass, where even the "non-devout came to warm themselves." But, their superiors back at HQ have other plans. All this fraternisation smacks of high treason. And the Church is no less forgiving in its condemnation.

It's a shame, really. Other than a reasonably well-told tale, Merry Christmas adds next to nothing to the roster of war films. The script's immaturity compares to a high school short story, serving to dilute the true stories.

In this respect, familiarity bred contempt with me.

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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Read more Merry Christmas reviews:

Kotleta *****

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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