5 International Christmas Films to Watch This Holiday Season

December is finally here, so you know what that means; it’s time to curl up on the couch with a steaming cup of hot cocoa and put on a Christmas-y movie to get into the holiday spirit! If you’ve been celebrating Christmas since you were a kid, you’ve probably seen basically every holiday movie in the book by now, or at least every English language one. Why not spice up your movie viewing this holiday season by watching one of these lesser-known, foreign Christmas films?


1. Joyeux Noël (2005)

"Joyeux Noël" is a historical drama that illustrates the idea that we have much more in common with one another than it seems. (Credit: Sensacine)

Joyeux Noël (meaning “Merry Christmas” in French) is a French-English-German co-production about the true story of the truce that occurred on Christmas between the allied and central powers during World War I. The film depicts combat between the German side (led by Lieutenant Horstmayer, played by Daniel Brühl) and the Scottish and French side (commanded by Lieutenants Audebert and Gordon, played by Guillaume Canet and Alex Ferns, respectively). Fighting abruptly comes to a standstill in the spirit of Christmas, and each country’s soldiers find they have more in common with one another than they realize.


2. A Christmas Tale (2008)

"A Christmas Tale" is the story of a dysfunctional family holiday told with French flair and style. (The Movie db)

The French film, A Christmas Tale, is a refreshing take on the “dysfunctional family Christmas” genre. With French humor, flair, and wit, it tells the story of the Vuillard family. When they gather together for the holiday, their old grievances and grudges – over love affairs, money problems, and alcoholism – come to a head. The family has always relied on the family matriarch, Junon (played by the legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve), to hold them together but, when her own problems make that impossible, it appears the family is close to complete ruination.


3. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

The Swedish epic, "Fanny and Alexander," though not the most cheery Christmas film, is a must-see for any cinephile. (Credit: Eastman)

Fanny and Alexander, made by the renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, is regarded by many cinephiles as a masterpiece of cinema. This three-hour long epic is follows the experiences of two siblings, Fanny and Alexander, as they navigate the complicated relationships of their family life, most notably the relationship with their mother’s new husband, a bishop who later physically and psychologically tortures Alexander. Though obviously not one of the cheeriest Christmas features, the film’s decadent sets and incredible performances make it a must-see for any film lover.


4. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

"Tokyo Godfathers" reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas – giving to and caring for one another. (Credit: Medium)

This Japanese animated film, Tokyo Godfathers, illustrates the importance of sparing a thought for the less fortunate, especially during the holiday season. The heartwarming film tells the story of three homeless people, each with their own tragic backstories, who unexpectedly come across an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. To reunite the baby with its family, the three embark on a journey that takes them through unexpected twists and introduces them to all kinds of unique characters.


5. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" stars David Bowie as a British POW trying to survive in a Japanese prison camp. (Credit: Letterboxd)

Though Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence has basically nothing to do with Christmas, it is nonetheless a phenomenal film. Plus, it stars David Bowie so, naturally, it’s going on this list. Bowie plays Major Jack Celliers, a British soldier who is captured and imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The titular Mr. Lawrence, played by Tom Conti, is another British soldier imprisoned at the camp who has an interest in Japanese culture and develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome during his time there. Celliers develops a strategic relationship with Lawrence in order to survive the camp and understand the ways of the Japanese officers in charge. This film, like Fanny and Alexander, is not the most lighthearted or festive Christmas film, but it is nonetheless essential viewing for any cinephile or fan of Bowie.


If you’re looking for something unique that you’ve never watched before during the holiday season, consider giving one of these five films a try. Who knows – maybe in future years one of these films will become a staple of your holiday viewing!


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