It seems odd that a film with the cheery seasonal title Joyeux Nol should open in the doldrums of March. But this well-made, Oscar-nominated French feature is only marginally concerned with yuletide blandishments. Based on historical events, it depicts an impromptu (and unauthorized) truce between German, French and Scottish troops on a World War I battlefield over Christmas 1914; the weary soldiers on both sides emerged from their trenches to observe mass, sing carols, play pickup soccer and bury their dead, before returning to the grim business of war.
How ever did it happen? Director Carion suggests that the lingua franca of music drew these enemies together. Nikolaus Sprink (Frmann), a onetime opera singer, is performing “Silent Night” for his comrades in the German trenches on Christmas Eve when a Scottish bagpiper joins in from the other side, and before long the men are fraternizing, warily, in no-man’s-land. Joyeux Nol is expertly shot and full of lively details (such as a cat that crosses back and forth between the trenches), but a certain romanticism underpins the project. Carion is wont to indulge it, as when Sprink’s visiting girlfriend (Kruger) serenades the men, an ethereal soprano in a fur-lined cape, wind blowing dramatically through her wavy blond tresses. A slightly colder eye—compare Kubrick’s inexorable WWI picture, Paths of Glory—might better have served the film. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Tom Beer