"Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)" is the most sentimental war movie in quite some time especially since "Saving Private Ryan" came along to ratchet up the level of violence and realism in such films.
But this European import France's nominee for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (it lost to South Africa's "Tsotsi") is one of the few movies where its sentimentality actually works in its favor.
"Joyeux Noel" is occasionally too heavy-handed, and some of the dramatic moments seem a bit treacly, but it does have its effective moments.
The film is based on true stories from the Christmas Truce of 1914, one of the least-known but important events of World War I, as Scottish, French and German armies all converged on the Western Front, only to call a temporary cease-fire on Christmas Eve.
Diane Kruger ("Troy") stars as Anna Sorenson, an opera singer trying to save her boyfriend, fellow musician Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), from the fighting. He's part of the German army, but she has persuaded officials to let the two of them perform on Christmas Eve for German royalty.
Nikolaus reluctantly agrees to do so, though he also heads back to his fellow soldiers as quickly as possible. And then he offers an impromptu "concert," which leads the respective army commanders (Guillaume Canet, Alex Ferns and Daniel Bruhl) to halt the fighting.
This story might seem a little contrived if it hadn't really happened. But screenwriter/director Christian Carion can't resist a few saccharine asides. And the musical lip-synching by both Furmann and Kruger is pretty bad.
Still, the cast is solid, especially Gary Lewis, who plays the most sympathetic character, a Scottish priest forced into duty.
"Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of war violence (shootings and explosive mayhem), a brief sex scene, scattered profanity (most of it religiously based), some brief gore, and brief partial female nudity. Running time: 116 minutes.