Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009

I know, it’s January 2, 2010. But within the past few days I watched a movie that ranks as one of the best—maybe the best—Christmas movie I’ve seen. It’s the foreign film called Joyeux Noël (translated, “Merry Christmas”).

The setting is Christmas Eve, 1914, on the battlefield, with French, Scottish, and German battalions hunkered down in their respective trenches. Conditions are grim. But something very special happens.

Plotting, casting, cinematography, soundtrack are all good. But crucial to the success of this film is that the story it tells is true.

The film is realistic down to the language and accents. The French Lieutenant speaks French, the German Lieutenant speaks German, and (most challenging of the three?) the Scottish Lieutenant speaks English, but the way they do in Scotland. There are no subtitles in the digital version I viewed. But to me, this was a major plus.

If you’ve never watched a foreign language film without English subtitles, then you really need to. You watch differently. You notice different things. You pay closer attention to tone, voices, expressions. You hear the music, and the music acts on you in a different way. And I can think of no better film to see this way than Joyeux Noël. All you need is a little help with back story and a moderate summary of the progression of the film. Wikipedia supplies a good synopsis for Joyeux Noël here.

How do you get this movie? You could buy the DVD. The edition sold here at Amazon purports to have subtitles in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. I bought a digital copy from Amazon’s Video on Demand here.

If you’ve seen Joyeux Noël, please comment. I’d like to know what you think. Or, if you’ve watched a foreign film without knowing the language, how about commenting on the experience?

Notes:

  • In Joyeux Noël, Diane Kruger plays the important role of a Danish opera singer. You’ll recognize her from her role as Abigail Chase, opposite Nicolas Cage, in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. She played Helen in the film Troy.
  • For a highly praised documentary film about the event that occurred December 24, 1914, see The Christmas Truce, produced by the History Channel (2004).
  • Historian Stanley Weintraub documents the event in his book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (2002). He formulates the counterfactual question, “What would have happened if ______?” Oops, I don’t want to spoil the film for you. (For some discussion about counterfactuals and another foreign film, Run Lola Run, see this post.)

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

4 Responses to Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009

  1. cam says:

    Das Boot, years ago. The first time I saw it was with English subtitles. It was riveting. I saw it later with dubbed English, not as good as the original I thought.

    I think Das Boot is a classic.

    Like

  2. Doug Geivett says:

    Agreed, Babette’s Feast is a classic. I should see that again.

    By the way, my course on Faith, Film, and Philosophy begins today. I’ll be screening Joyeux Noël. It turns out that the DVD does allow choice of subtitles (including English).

    Like

  3. Paul says:

    Joyeux Noël is a fine, fine, fine movie. We saw it a number of years ago and the message of redemption is powerful. Thanks for the reminder here. As for other foreign films, Babette’s Feast ranks in the top 5 best ever.

    Like

  4. Hi Prof. Geivett,
    I absolutely loved “Life Is Beautiful” in the original language. I never enjoyed watching movies that required the extra effort of reading, that is until this movie. The funny thing is I had no idea the movie was going to have sub-titles and I almost walked out. The movie was done so well that at one point I unconsciously stopped reading the sub-titles and began enjoying the sound of Italian, the characters, the plot and the other things that make movies great. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll put Joyeux Noel on my queue.

    Like

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