Christmas Around the World – in Movies
Whether they say Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Crăciun fericit, or Veselé Vánoce, Christmas is celebrated by more than 2 billion around the world, for some only as a cultural holiday. Families reunite, children wait for Father Christmas or Papa Noel or Dedt Moroz, and Christmas trees, gift-giving, and celebratory feasts are traditional. Different countries have different traditions like the Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines the Saturday before Christmas eve, or going to church on rollerskates in Caracas, Venezuela. For Dia de las Velitas, people across Colomb,ia place candles and lanterns in their windows and front yards in honor of the Virgin Mary, with entire towns lit up this way. Jamaicans party all night at the Grand Market in their best clothes. And the Japanese line up to eat KFC, making reservations weeks in advance. Yes, really. Many countries have Christmas processions, fireworks, and parades, carol singing, and services. And then there is the tradition of going to the movies.
The Christmas holiday season is an important one for the box office as families go together to the cinema. There is also no shortage of Christmas-themed movies on television during the holiday season around the world. In the US, you can catch It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 24th Street, Home Alone, White Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas or even Die Hard on some channel or other, but there are wonderful Christmas foreign films that should be on every movie fan’s to-watch list. Here are a few suggestions.
Arnaud Desplechin’s 2008 Un Conte de Noel, stars Catherine Deneuve as a family matriarch who reveals she has cancer at the Christmas reunion and asks for a bone marrow donor. Hidden tensions, fractured relationships, guilty secrets and lots of drinking are revealed in a story that has is funny and tragic, and which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The ensemble cast includes Mathieu Amalric, Jean-Paul Rousillon and Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve’s daughter).
Joyeux Noel from 2005 has been accused of sentimentality but is based on a real event from WWI. French, German and Scottish soldiers on the front lines decide to halt hostilities for one night. In the middle of the hell that is war, a German private sings Silent Night a capella on Christmas eve; he is joined by Scottish bagpipes. A priest conducts mass and the enemy soldiers wish each other and exchange chocolate and champagne. Written and directed by Christian Carion, the film stars Benno Furman, Guillaume Canet, and Gary Lewis.
In Tokyo Godfathers, the anime film from director Satoshi Kon, three homeless people find an abandoned baby in a dumpster on Christmas eve. A bag containing clues to the baby’s family set the trio on a search of the Tokyo streets to find the parents. The offbeat comedy has its sentimental moments but the strength of the beautiful visuals and score, as well as the witty writing, makes it an alternative Christmas classic. The main characters are voiced by Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, and Aya Okamoto.
Botte di Natale (1994) is a spaghetti western comedy starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. For some reason, their movies were very popular in India, so it’s likely that they were distributed worldwide and have a following among people of a certain age. This one, also known as Troublemakers, is about two estranged brothers who are summoned home for Christmas by their mother. One is a bounty hunter, the other a gun for hire. Somehow, on the way home, the two end up going after the same crook and are taken for bank robbers. Directed by Terence Hill, it’s the last pairing of the two actors.
Mug Travel is a Korean animated movie from 2007 based on the animated TV series called Backkom. Directed by Lim Ah-ron, it tells the story of a little girl, Bebe, who is all alone on Christmas eve when she gets a special gift from Santa. He gives her a magical pendant that lets her travel anywhere she wants aboard a teleportation-enabled mug, so she and her animal friends can go on adventures in far-off places like the North Pole.
A Bohemian spin on the Cinderella story, Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel is a 1973 Czechoslovak-E. German film is seen in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine and Russia every holiday season. Directed by Václav Vorlíček, it literally means Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella. The magic hazelnuts help Cinderella to thwart the evil stepmother and marry the prince. The screenwriter, František Pavlíček, was credited under a pseudonym as he was blacklisted by the Czechoslovak government. The cast includes Libuše Šafránková as Aschenbrödel, Pavel Trávníček as the Prince and Carola Braunbock as the stepmother.
Bushfire Moon (Miracle Down Under) is set in the Australian outback in 1891. The locals are suffering a terrible drought and one little boy, whose parents can’t afford Christmas presents, believes that a passing swagman is Santa Claus. A rich man ignores his neighbors’ troubles and throws himself a lavish holiday party, but he too has a mysterious connection to the stranger. Directed by the ‘other’ George Miller, the 1987 movie stars Dee Williams, John Waters, Nadine Garner, and Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell.
Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka/The Night Before Christmas (1961) is a Soviet-era fairy tale based on one of Nicolai Gogol’s stories and takes place in the village of Dikanka on Christmas eve. It tells the story of a young blacksmith who dreams of marrying the smithy’s very religious daughter. But she won’t have him unless he procures her the Tsarina’s slippers. So he enlists the devil, complete with furry body and pig snout, to fly him to St. Petersburg to bring back the slippers. There is a black and white 1913 silent version of this film as well. Both can be seen on YouTube.