A Very Long Engagement
starring Audrey Tatou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominique Pinon, Chantal Neuwirth, Andre Dussolier, Ticky Holgado, Marian Cotillard, Doninique Bettenfeld, Jodie Foster, Jean Pierre Darroussin and others
written by Jean Pierre Jeunet And Guillaume Laurant
directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet
Based on the “Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailler” by Sebastien Japrisot, this is a powerful love story and a powerful wartime drama. The story is first rate, and so is the acting and, especially, the costumes and sets. It is a World War One French love story. Two betrothed lovers are separated by the war. Mathilde never gives up hope that her man is still alive even two years after the end of fighting. With the support of her surviving family, but without their encouragement, she embarks on a long and seemingly futile search, interviewing veterans, perusing War Office records, etc. The good news is that there is a happy ending. She finds her man in a hospital, suffering from amnesia, but very much alive.
The film is a retelling as a narrative of the story, and it gives a startlingly vivid and real picture of the Western Front of 1917. Many people today, especially young people, have little or no regard for the First (or the Second) World War. It is ancient history for them and meaningless. I don’t feel like that, though, perhaps because there were still plenty of Great War veterans alive when I was growing up. It was a war in which the incompetence of the French general staff led to mutinies and desertions late in the conflict. Russia experienced two revolutions in 1917 and withdrew from the war. French forces were threatened with anarchy and collapse. In an absurd overreaction the French army of the time was executing soldiers at random to dissuade others from desertion. Criminals were drafted to fill the dwindling ranks. Cases of self mutilation (soldiers shooting themselves in the hands or feet to avoid further service) were treated as cases of capital treason on a par with desertion.
This is the case with A Very Long Engagement. It tells the story of five French soldiers convicted of self mutilation. They are sentenced to death by being forced (thrown) out of the trench into No Man’s Land. Mathilde’s lover is one of the five, and through the narration of her journey to discover his fate we learn how he survived, what became of the other four, and what became of the soldiers who participated in throwing them out of the trench in the first place. It is a great, moving story.