Merry Christmas review

:. Director: Christian Carion
:. Starring: Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann
:. Running Time: 1:56
:. Year: 2005
:. Country: France


Set during World War I, Merry Christmas is based on numerous accounts that French and German enemy forces found peace for a brief moment on the frontlines by fraternizing to celebrate Christmas. From this intriguing story and premise that could have lead to an interesting work of contrast between the traumatic experience of this nasty war and an unexpected Christmas celebration, writer-director Christian Carion (The Girl from Paris) preferred to build a cartoonish film filled with easy jokes and patchouli hippy messages.

It's a couple of German opera singers giving a recital in the trenches — go figure! — who will serve as the catalyst for a Christmas festivity that will gather allied French and Scottish soldiers with their German nemeses. From soldiers to officers, everybody — there is one damn recalcitrant though who doesn't share the spirit of Christmas! — will become friend, sharing mass, champagne, wine, pictures of each other's wives, playing cards and soccer, like a group of alumni who haven't seen each other in 10 years. When the bombs start falling, they will even invite each other to share trenches in order to save the lives of these new brothers. Once Christmas is over, rather than going back to exterminating each other, which is what certainly happened in real life, they all get dispatched on different fronts — thank God for screenwriting happy endings.

While known as an excessively atrocious war, it looks like World War I seems to have emerged since A Very Long Engagement as a pretext for cheesy melodramas, maybe a new trend among filmmakers who aim at seducing a mainstream American audience — think Gone with the Wind crosses Pearl Harbor with an exotic French accent.

While French cinema has as much the right to make epic melodramatic films as its American counterpart, the issue here is that it distorts history in a grotesque way, and that the uneducated spectator will swallow without a blink this obscure version of events. There are moments that are so ridiculous that they provoke unintentional laughs, most particularly the scene where the tenor sings between the trenches while holding a Christmas tree. While aiming at an international audience, Carion rejects any kind of historic responsibility as a storyteller to serve up an easy farce. It's not his "great message of fraternization and brotherly love", already seen in numerous American civil war movies, that will save this Christmas from being a failed celebration.

  Fred Thom

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