Joyeux Noel/Interview with Christian Carion
Thursday, March 16, 2006
British schoolboy: "To rid the map of every trace of Germany and of the hunt to exterminate that race, we must not leave a single one'"
Joyeux Noel opens with a montage of British, German and French school children reciting lessons in hate.
CHRISTIAN CARION: "I was very shocked to know that adults can put on the minds of children that kind of horror. It's a kind of communication to make people accept the idea to kill another man which is not so easy."
Writer-director Christian Carion wants audiences to understand that lessons such as these help fill young soldiers with hate in preparation for war.
Boy: "War has been declared. At last something's happening in our lives."
This youthful enthusiasm is quickly extinguished when the soldiers get their first taste of battle.
Months of fighting combined with the chill of winter exhaust the soldiers on all sides. On Christmas Eve, a German private tries to cheer the homesick men by singing.
Then he's joined in the darkness by Scottish bagpipes. Suddenly, these soldier cease to be enemies and simply become men a long way from home. This prompts the leaders of the three camps to meet and shake hands in the no man's land between the trenches.
Scottish Captain: "Do you speak English French Lieutenant?"
"Yes a little."
Scottish Captain: "Wonderful, we were talking about a ceasefire for Christmas Eve."
Initially this strikes one as an absurd scene'enemies exchanging a friendly gesture amidst the corpses from the previous day's fighting. But Carion suggests it's the war that's absurd.
CHRISTIAN CARION: "It's not absurd to shake the hand of the man in front of you and to talk about peace and to show pictures of your wives and to talk about coming back to a home. This is a normal life. But making a war is not a normal life."
Carion says that despite a Catholic education he does not believe in God. But he respects those who do.
CHRISTIAN CARION: "When I make my research about the Christmas truce, I discover some priest did a mass for everybody in Latin and I was very much touched by this idea, even if I don't believe. It's much more than a Christian attitude, it's for me, a pure human attitude."
But the Scottish priest who brings the soldiers together is reprimanded for his behavior by a bishop who shows him the right way to invoke God.
Bishop: "With God's help you must kill the Germans good or bad, young or old, kill everyone of them."
Carion discovered the text for this sermon in his research and was shocked.
CHRISTIAN CARION: "I'm not a specialist but there's no religion I can imagine that has not been touched by that kind of manipulation so let's be very careful. I wanted to put it in my movie because there were two ways of believing in god at that time, some people who wanted to involve god in the war itself, and other people who believe in god but in a peaceful way."
Carion hopes that the peaceful acts of the soldiers will renew audiences' faith in humanity.
CHRISTIAN CARION: "I think it's too easy to be deeply pessimistic. I'm like Jean-Jacques Rosseau, the French philosopher, I believe that people when they arrive on the earth are not bad people but because of money and because of society, they are corrupted.
The soldiers find a way to return to this state of innocence, and are promptly punished for "fraternizing with the enemy." Carion looks at Joyeux Noel as his "revenge" on those who tried to erase this event from history, and a celebration of the World War One soldiers who dared to extend good will to each other.
Christian Carion's Joyeux Noel is not a slickly packaged film but it's a passionate and emotional one with a message of humanity that strikes a resonant note as our nation continues to debate the war in Iraq.
Joyeux Noel is in French and German with English subtitles. -----
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