Module A – Joyeux Noel + Christmas Truce
Module A- Comparative Essay
Comparative essays serve to enhance the understanding of the themes, values and ideas represented in texts, by examining their different mediums, contextual values and purposes. Christian Carrion’s feature film Joyeux Noel, and Nic Young’s documentary, The Christmas Truce, are both 21st century filmic responses to a 20th century event. The similar values of the texts are showcased through different forms, and techniques. QUESTION. Carrion has created a sanitizing version of the Truce, QUESTION, through the gripping use of characterization and film techniques.
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Through visual and textual techniques, Carrion has conveyed the camaraderie between the soldiers and has proposed the idea that music can unite enemies. This is evident in the ‘Interaction’ scene on Christmas Eve. German Tenor Sprink, sings a well known Christmas carol Silent Night, and is responded by the Scottish soldiers’ bagpipes. This suggests that music can descend the barriers of war. Long shots are used to display the sanitizing mise-en-scene of candles and snow. This use of artistic license softens the horrendous state of the war and creates a sense of hope. The linear structure of the film is reinforced through the unifying song ‘I still dream of home’. The Germans humming this Scottish song in the carriage, accentuates the idea of the human spirit overcoming adversity and links the idea that all soldiers share the longing for home and peace.
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Nic Young has used powerful film techniques and stylized reenactments to create a realistic representation of the truce. The documentary follows a linear structure and moves chronologically, this is supported through the continuous use of time and date stamps. This highlights the director’s purpose of an informative and historical documentary. The lack of colour in the documentary reflects the dull lives of the soldiers.
Darkness is dominant, significantly in the opening scene, symbolizing the dark time in history. In contrast to the sanitizing effect of the feature film, this creates a realistic interpretation of the event, minimizing the sense of hope. The opening shot of the hand stuck in a wire in no man’s land, foreshadows the fate of these soldiers. This scene is juxtaposed against the handshake over the wire, representing that humanity breaking down the physical barriers of war. Equality is achieved through long shots of the fraternizing men. The exchange of photographs of wives and children highlights the commonality between these men. Multiple shots of men singing the same carol yet in a different language, emphasizes that war and enmity has been overridden by the fellowship and Christmas. However, the bitter narration ‘business as usual’ conveys the realistic purpose of the suffering of these men, money and power.
By using characterization, Carrion enhances the viewer’s emotional response and understanding of the event. Parallels can be drawn to the documentary in the ‘Abandon’ scene, however Carrion has used this scene to develop the character of the priest and therefore increasing the viewers emotional connection and response. This scene displays his compassion and bravery and highlights his use of religion as a tool for peace. Extreme close ups of the French soldiers in the ‘Interaction’ scene, convey the petrified emotions of these soldiers. These shots exemplify the individuality of these men and position the viewer to perceive them as normal as opposed to killing machines.
The powerful confession from French Lieutenant Audbert, ‘I want to go home too’, gives a realistic insight of the men’s feelings towards the war and positions the viewer to sympathize, therefore increasing their emotional response to the film. Carrion has created a two dimensional representation of the Generals. Spink’s comment ‘ Look at those fat sated men, parading and spilling champagne’ and French soldier’s quote ‘ Those bastards sitting pretty, sent us here to slug it out’, influence the audience to perceive the Generals as rude and ignorant.
The relatable impressions between Sprink and the French soldier, ironically suggest that that the soldiers have more in common with their enemies than with their leaders. Through the characterization of Scottish soldier Jonathan, Carrion displays the destruction of innocence and its psychological impact. ‘At last, something great is happening in our lives’, this opening state of mind is contrasted with the reality of the war, his loss and destruction. The voice-over conveys his denial to reality and positions the viewer to sympathize and understand his disturbance. The connection through characterization enhances the viewer’s emotional response.
The lack of characterization in the documentary positions the viewer to focus on the facts and information presented, limiting their emotional response and connection. The use of didactic technique employed, limits the viewers connection to the soldiers, however the use of 1st hand diary extracts creates a realistic impression of the soldier’s experiences. ‘ Grave and tender voices rose out of the frozen mist, .. it was like being in another word’, these first hand diary extracts are used to present the outwardly experience of the men, witnessing the truce.
‘We don’t want to fight this war, not now, not ever’ This confessions from the conscripted German soldier highlights the mentality of the soldiers and their longing for home and normality. The unreality of peace in the truce is displayed through the decisive comment ‘ It can’t alst’ and the accompagniment of slow motion camera work. The cello music and the estinguishment of the candles, highlights the end of the truce and hope for soldiers.
A non biased representation of this event is developed through the comparative study of the two different mediums. Carrion has effectively accentuated – QUESTION.