115min, I watched it at Orchard Cineleisure, exclusive showcase.
in French, German and Scottish-accented English
The title might be misleading. I thought beforehand when I read the description of the film that the film should not be named as such because it's just too misleading, but after watching the film, I cannot think of a more appropriate or a more poignant title than Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.
The film opens with three small boys saying aloud the indoctrinations of their nation in their national language of French, English and German. The French of the possession of Alsace, the Scot of the will of God and the Germans being all evil, the German of the might of the Kaiser and their duty to the Fatherland. I shivered when I saw that. Those were boys, young boys, yet they were so fed with propaganda and indoctrination that they have lost the sense to think for themselves.
Then it pans out to the vast European lands, and into the trenches. With my knowledge of the Great War and everything to do with trench warfare, this film touched my heart more than others, who have no knowledge of what it was like under those circumstances. During the shelling of the trenches, I can actually feel all the vibration in the cinema. We got Hall 6 in Cineleisure. Fans of art house film would be very familar with Hall 6, it's the tiny tiny hall which can seat like 60-80 people only (I've counted before) and behind that stairwell. So, given the tiny hall, all the vibrations were felt on full force and it was just as if we were at the forefront of the battle.
This front of the war was fought between the Germans and the two allied people of Scotland and France. The Germans and the French all along have been against each other in almost every major European War fought between them, yet it was refreshing to have the Scots rather than the English in this front as I'd say the Scots have been underrated in this Great War, and actually, also other European wars. The only problem of the Scots was their accent, which I luckily did not find it too annoying. One thing good about watching films in Singapore, and being able to understand English, Chinese and 50% of the German used in the film, I was able to read the English and Chinese subtitles and differentiate the nationalities and the languages used by the different soldiers. Jasmine had some problems differentiating the German and the French. For me, those I understood 100% was English, 50% German, 0% French. Maybe it was due to my knowledge of the languages, I really felt I could understand and appreciate the scenes of which the soldiers used a smattering of languages to try communicating with each other.
Due to the equal weightage appropriated to the three nationalities, there was a large cast, with leads in all three nations and each with a side story.
The German side story was about an oprea singer and his wife, also an oprea singer. Because of the war, they were forced to part, and by chance they managed to meet up on Christmas eve and using their voices, they spread the warmth of Christmas eve not only to their own solders but also to the soldiers sharing the border.
The French story concentrated on the conflicts between the Lietunant and his Major and about another soldier whose mother stayed near the Lietunant's father-in-law. It was until later in almost the last part where we realise ***spoilers*** that the Major was the father of the Lietunant. Before the Lietunant went to war, he left his heavily pregnant wife in the care of her parents. During the war, there was a cease of letters from the warfront and the Lietunant was unable to find out the whereabouts of his wife. He met this soldier who on one occasion disclosed to the Lietunant that actually his home village was about an hour's walk about from the battlefront. His village happened to be the same village as the Lietnuant's father-in-law. ***spoilers end***
The Scottish story centred on a priest and two brothers. The priest and his struggle with the teachings of God. Who are the sons of God? Was it only the Entente Powers? Or did it include the evil Germans? The story of the brothers happened in a battle when one brother was shot. He told his brother to run ahead so at least one of them could survive. The surviving brother was filled with guilt over leaving his then still alive brother behind.
These stories were pieced together in a seamless fashion and brought together in the final tale of the Merry Christmas. The three groups of soldiers negotiated a ceasefire among themselves and buried the dead as they exchanged Christmas songs, had a mass and played football and cards and just had a merry Christmas. Those were not soldiers on the battlefield, they were men, who had families back at home. They were not fighting for themselves, they were fighting for the "fat blokes back in the HQ smoking cigar".
I always thought war was something that men had to fight in it with all their heart. I remembered in my European Nationalisms class, I scorned at this girl who said "I don't believe in war", but it is only when we face death in our face that we can truly realise that we are not soldiers, we are but faliable men. There was nothing different among the soldiers though they were wearing different hats, they had a family back at home and they missed them.
In the scenes of which the different soldiers came together, their topic always went back to their family. Soldiers would trade showing each other photos of their wives. Their family background and the circumstances that they were driven to war were very similar, leading them to befriend each other, to want to build up a friendship for when the war ends.
Maybe it's also my knowledge of the Great War that made this Merry Christmas more poignant. Before the war started, the general opinion of the war was that it'll be over by Christmas. But apparently, it's Christmas, and the war's not over yet. They really did want the war to end.
The thing about the three different groups of soldiers were that they lived very near each other, separated only by a thin stretch of no man's land. The Scots started their Christmas eve celebrations first, by playing the bagpipes and singing. These sounds could be heard by the Germans and the French. The French were suspicious and sent out a spy to check out the Scots and the Germans, the Germans on the other hand on hearing the singing, sang too. The oprea singer, sang for his people, and was heard by the Scots too. Later, the Scots played on their bagpipes Silent Night, which the oprea singer sang to it, in his native tongue.
[Note: I had written a lot after this, but stupid Blogger ate everything up, luckily I'd until this part saved.]
The French were sort of the comedians in this war, actually from history, we all know that the French have always been comedians in war. There's this joke, France never had any great militarians, except for Napoleon, who was a loser. In the part regarding the negotiations, the French were always the last to show up. Even in the Scottish trenches, there's a sign labelled "Froggie Land" in the direction of the French trenches. For those who don't know the joke, the British call the French Frogs.
There is still a lot I want to write but I feel so tired, I'll leave you guys to ponder over what I mean by I love the side story of the alarm clock the best. Many jokes were made out of it, but it's ending was also a tragic one, not only to those involved but to the general spirit of hope among mankind. ***spoilers*** There was this guy, his alarm clock was always set to ring at 10am, every day without fail. Soldiers from all three camps could hear it, and recognise it. The guy with the alarm clock said that he needed this to remind him that when the war was over, he had to be up at 10am to have breakfast with his mother. Because of the Christmas ceasefire, he borrowed a set of uniform from the Germans and set off for home to visit his mother. He had breakfast with his mother. He went over to visit the Lietnuant's in-laws too. And came back to the trenches the next day. However, the ceasefire had then ended. He was shot by one of his men because he was wearing a German uniform. They only recognised him when his alarm clock rang off at 10am sharp, as usual. Before he died, he managed to inform the Lietnuant that his wife had given birth to a son. I really liked that scene a lot, it was so touching, so poignant, and filled with all sorts of emotions.
It was also because of the birth of the son that the Lietnuant patched up with the major in the end. ***spoilers end***
A great film, a 10/10 film, a Joan's Top 10 Films Film.