There are two kinds of French movies: nihilistic explorations of the meaning of art, interpersonal communication and sexual politics; and half-baked sentimental fables. This year, one of the five Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations went to Joyeux Noël, which is sadly one of the latter.

Based on a true event, it tells the story of Christmas Eve, 1914, when the French, Scottish and German armies laid down their arms for one night that turned into a week. There's nothing here you haven't seen a dozen times over: the film very scrupulously cuts from trench to trench with clockwork precision, making sure no country gets too much screentime all at once.

Everything about the film is by-the-numbers: the postcard-pretty cinematography, the epic, string-heavy score, the artful shots of soldiers lying in the dirt with their dying brothers (literally, in one case).

I will say this: the middle part, the truce, works. Writer/director Christian Carion manages to work some observations about fraternity along class lines rather than nationalities that would be perfectly comfortable in a Renoir film (truth be told, the whole film felt like a gloss on Renoir, sort of a La Grande Illusion for Dummies. I kept wondering how much better the film could have been if he'd been telling the story). In particular, there's a nice motif involving the use of music as a language: the German opera singer and the Scottish bagpipers having a call and response with Christmas carols, that sort of thing.

Mostly it's just boring and rote WWI trenching. Fully the first hour is devoted to showing trench life, and how We're Really All the Same, but trench warfare has been done much, much better, in films ranging from All Quiet on the Western Front to A Very Long Engagement. The third act, in which the soldiers receive their punishments for daring to wage peace, could have worked, but Carion's insistence on showing the full sequence for each country bogs down the ending in repetition.

What makes this the most frustrating is that France actually produced a challenging and genre-defying work of cinema this year, that would have classed up the Academy Awards like nobody's business. But Caché? An Oscar nominee? Mon dieu! 6/10