Publicity Stills of "Merry Christmas"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)


In French with English Subtitles
Director: Christian Carion
Starring: Diane Kruger("Troy"), Guillaume Canet (“Love me if you dare”), Daniel Bruhl (“Goodbye Lenin”), Gary Lewis (“Billy Elliot”),
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & Festive Films
Rating: M18
Official Website: www.festivefilms.com/merrychristmas/

Opening Day: 22 December 2005


This movie is inspired by a true story, which happened during the First World War, for Christmas Eve 1914, in many different places of the battlefront.

When war breaks out in the lull of summer 1914, it surprises and pulls millions of men in its wake.

And Christmas arrives, with it’s snow and multitude of family and army presents. But the surprise won’t come from inside the generous parcels, which lie in the French, Scottish and German trenches.

That night, a momentous event will turn the destinies of 4 characters: An Anglican priest, a French lieutenant, an exceptional tenor and the one he loves, a wonderful soprano and singing partner. During this Christmas eve, the unthinkable will happen: rifles will be left at the bottom of the trenches to go, candle in hand, to see those opposite, shake their hands, exchange a cigarette and a piece of chocolate, wish them “Merry Christmas”…

Movie Review:

Based on true events that happened across Europe in the Great War, “Merry Christmas” centers on the Christmas Truce of 1914, where soldiers from all fronts laid down their arms to celebrate Christmas on No Man’s Land. Miniature Christmas trees are lighted, music becomes the lingua franca, temporal friendships forged, football between the French and Germans…y’know, the usual stuff.

The story unquestionably deserves to be told, yet in this retelling it seems to have lost some of the noble luster it’s seeking to convey. We are introduced to three camps including the French and Scottish on one side and the Germans on the other- an allied divide succinctly captured in the film’s opening scene. Three children from each country recite, separately, a nationalistic poem in an arresting montage that could well be the best scene executed in this film.

The follow-up is, however, disappointing. What ensues is largely predictable, which is sacrilegious, considering the incredible nature of the story. The pace is perhaps satisfactory for the average moviegoer but ultimately, it is simply not risky enough to reel in the demographic that will undoubtedly occupy the majority of its box office intake: the war-movie buffs. The underlying message is one of universal humanity, but in failing to translate its story well, “Merry Christmas” will be no more than a competent addition to a genre already overflowing with a multitude of excellent films.

The outstanding parts of the film that leave most to be desired would have to be those featuring Diane Kruger’s professional soprano; dubbing has never been this obvious since Ashlee Simpson’s Saturday Night Live fiasco. Here, as with the rest of this promising film, we witness an exceptional concept stifled by the way it’s forced into something that simply does not fit. There are segments that feel overemphasized, such as the love story between Anna (Kruger) and Sprink (Benno Furmann). While it does not hinder the film to fatal extents (think: “Pearl Harbour”), dwelling on this merely means compromised time – an unworthy risk when you have a whole World War I tale to uncover.

Indeed, a story with such potential for layered examinations of human dilemma and paradox can only fail in its inadequate treatment, whether in terms of acting, writing or direction – there are fine nuances traceable in Daniel Bruhl’s Lt. Horstmayer (his family; his attitude towards Sprink) but such subtleties are left sadly unexploited. On the other hand, scenes such as that of the last sermon being interspersed with Anglican priest Palmer’s (Gary Lewis) wordless anguish, as well as the closing shot of a train advancing into hopeless despair are masterful, though perhaps leaning towards the didactic. Nevertheless the symbolism is all too apparent, and we’re left to marvel at the infinite idiocy of war.

What’s left, then, is a barrel of if-onlys. If only the focus had been more defined, if only the makers were that much riskier. “Merry Christmas” is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and as with “Les Choristes”, the French entry last year, the film is enjoyable and moving, but nowhere near the caliber of such French gems as “Amelie”. If only, if only.

Movie Rating:

(“Merry Christmas” is lukewarm but competent, articulate though lacking in eloquence. Nonetheless, it’s worth a look.)

Review by Angeline Chui


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