Since the story of handshakes between enemies and footy matches in no man’s land is already familiar, it’s the adept characterisation that does the heavy lifting. When a conscripted opera singer on the German side (Benno Fürmann) displays his vocal skills during a Yuletide visit from his soprano girlfriend (Diane Kruger), his rendition of ‘Silent Night’ is soon accompanied by the pipes of a Scottish padre (Gary Lewis) and his regiment occupying the opposing trenches next to French forces and their careworn lieutenant (Guillaume Canet). With an unofficial break in hostilities agreed by three sides, unexpected connections emerge between the officers, while their men experience a surprisingly strong kinship with their fellow combatants.
Even-handedness and understatement here prompt significant dividends in the final half-hour, when news reaches the command structure, whose views on the incompatibility of war and compassion insist on a harsh response. Dramatically, there must have been a temptation to make more of a meal of this, but the film’s telling reserve is touchingly underlined by Philippe Rombi’s rich (but never cloying) score. Some ungainly moments of English dialogue aside, it’s a respectful, sobering tribute to the flickering of humanitarian spirit amid the darkest days of conflict and, as such, surely a Christmas film for the ages.
Cast and crew