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Film / A Very Long Engagement

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Un long dimanche de fiançailles (literally:"A long Engagement Sunday", but internationally titled A Very Long Engagement) is a 2004 French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the titular book by Sébastien Japrisot.

Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) was engaged to her childhood sweetheart Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) when he had to enlist to fight in the Great War. Manech tried to get excused from duty by getting his hand shot, but he was instead convicted of self-mutilation and left to die with four other soldiers in the no-man's land between the French and German trenches, and wasn't heard of again, believed to be dead.

In 1919, a few months after the war's end, Mathilde still refuses to believe that Manech is dead, and sets out on an investigation to find out what happened to him, clinging onto the hope that he's still alive. As she investigates all over post-war France, she meets people who are also connected to the five condemned soldiers, including vengeful prostitute Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard) and widow Élodie Gordes (Jodie Foster), and learns their stories.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Mathilde grows some shades of this while digging into the circumstances of Manech's disappeareance. While she hires a private detective, she handles the investigations far better, though mostly through piecing things together actually. The detective meanwhile is still useful as he does the grunt work of finding the whereabouts of the people that she needs to see, and it's not easy, especially when he goes to Corsica, where he nearly gets shot.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Manech turns out to be alive, but amnesiac. Mathilde reunites with him at the end.
  • Asshole Victim: Tina Lombardi's victims. Thouvenel was a ruthless and chauvinistic sergeant who shot her boyfriend/pimp dead as he tried surrendering to the Germans, and Lavrouye was an armchair major who was corrupt, incompetent and destroyed the presidential pardon letter that was sent to spare the life of the condemned soldiers, allowing their execution (and he did so out of pure laziness and pettiness).
  • Best Served Cold: Tina Lombardi's vengeance happens two-to-three years after her boyfriend died.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mathilde finally finds Manech, who is alive and well physically, but has lost all memories of his life prior to the war, including those of her and of their relationship. However, it's hinted they might restart from the beginning, and the doctors also imply he might eventually regain the memories he's lost.
  • Book Ends: "Ca te fais mal quand tu marches?" ("Does it hurt when you walk?"). The first time is not at the beginning of the movie, but at the beginning of Manech and Mathilde's relationship.
  • Born Lucky: Benoît Notre-Dame survives two direct hits from mortar shells and the explosion of a blimp full of hydrogen inside a hangar.
  • Break the Cutie: Manech, hard. An innocent and nice young man who just wanted to live happy with the love of his life and got thrown into the hell of trench warfare.
  • Cat Scare: Mathilde's cat jumps from the window and starts a fire. It was actually Benoît Notre-Dame sneaking into her room, contemplating whether strangle her in her sleep.
  • Catchphrase: Several character have one, like a Character Tic:
    • Mathilde istinctively says "my late parents" ("feu mes parents" in French) whenever someone mentions them;
    • Her aunt Bénédicte repeats "Farting hound, happy sound" every time her dog farts;
    • Germaine Pire's slogan is "Pire que la fouine" ("Worse than the weasel") as a Pun to his last name.
  • Color Wash: The film is bathed in sepia filter, the Signature Style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
  • Chained to a Bed: Lavrouye when he is trapped by Tina Lombardi. He realizes too late that she's not playing sexual games but rather set him up to be killed when she shoots the mirror above him, and he gets killed by the shards falling on him.
  • Crisis Point Hospital: Benoît Notre-Dame is brought to a blimp hangar that has been hastily converted into a field hospital crammed with injured French soldier. There's still a blimp full of hydrogen in it, and the hangar is within range of enemy artillery... cue the inevitable explosion. Benoît has enough time to barricade himself behind mattresses in a room with a metal door and survives.
  • Crusading Widow: While not actually his widow, Tina Lombardi goes to great lenghts to avenge her lover, Ange. Leaving quite a body count behind.
  • Cultural Translation: There's a few of these in the English subs.
  • Death Row: Tina Lombardi is eventually arrested and condemned to death for the murders of the two officers who caused the death of her lover. Mathilde visits her in prison moments before she's executed.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Benoît Notre-Dame (Clovis Cornillac) miraculously survives two direct hits from mortar shells.
  • Dwindling Party: The fates of the five soldiers are revealed slowly as the story unravels. Some of them manage to survive.
  • Easy Amnesia: Played with. We don't really know what exactly caused the amnesia (probably a coma due to heavy wounds after Manech was shot in the gut by the German plane), so a realistic cause is entirely possible. However, both procedural and declarative memory seem to be affected (he had to learn to read and write again).
  • Epic Movie: By French cinema standards, it surely is one, as a long and expensive Period Piece featuring a tragically cut short love story and long quest to find a loved one, with World War I as backdrop.
  • Fanservice:
    • Audrey Tautou, in a few scenes. In one in particular, she looks like she should be riding a clamshell.
    • Also we get some nice shots of Marion Cotillard with a corset and sexy stockings.
  • Fat Bastard: Major Lavrouye is overweight and destroys the presidential pardon letter, allowing for the execution of the four soldiers to proceed.
  • Femme Fatale: Tina Lombardi to a tee; a prostitute who goes about assassinating the people involved with the death of her boyfriend and pimp.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The Corsican, Ange Bassignano. "Ange" means "angel" in French, and the guy is a pimp and a crazy jealous Domestic Abuser. In one scene, he has a guy subdued and plants his knife into one of said guy's butt cheeks, a "matter of honor" to him.
  • Foil: Tina Lombardi to Mathilde. While Mathilde goes about finding out about the circumstances of her lover's death by wit and guile, Tina does the same thing by seduction and violence.
  • Freak Out: Manech had a nervous breakdown after a shell tore apart his comrade and scattered the man's pieces and guts all over him.
  • Gasshole: The dog of Mathilde's uncle and aunt regularly farts. Somehow, in pure Jean-Pierre Jeunet humor fashion, Mathilde's aunt interprets it as a good sign ("Dog farts, joy on my head").
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Most of the events of the film are set in 1919 if not 1920, all the better for Mood Whiplash in the flashbacks to the Western Front.
  • Give Me a Sign: Mathilde makes a number of bets with herself, believing that if events go in a certain way that she predicts, it will be a sign to not give up.
  • I Will Find You: Mathilde's determination to find Manech and hope that he's alive is the driving force of the plot.
  • Insistent Terminology: Whenever someone mentions Mathilde's parents.
    Maître Rouvières: Tes parents... ("Your parents...")
    Mathilde: Feu mes parents. ("My LATE parents.")
  • Jerkass: Major Lavrouye, the officer who ignored Poincaré's pardon and sent the soldiers into the no-man's land.
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning: Mathilde anxiously waited for Manech's return to home during the war.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: An important plot-point for Bastoche's arc. His friend Corporal Benjamin Gordes is infertile but has legally adopted all the children from his wife's previous marriage. Another child would mean for him to leave the service... and drama ensues when his wife doesn't manage to have a sixth child.
  • Lingerie Scene: Mathilde and Tina have one or two.
  • Lost in Translation: The three M's, in French, stand for "Manech aime Mathilde." ("aime", which means "loves", sounds like the letter "M"). This carries over into English as "Manech's marrying Mathilde."
  • Love Triangle: A messy one between the Gordeses and Bastoche. Gordes cannot have children, while his wife can. So to retire from the war his wife must get pregnant...from someone else. Enters the picture Bastoche, his best friend. To say that things do not go as planned is understatement.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: A horribly realistic version, with Manech showered with the giblets of another soldier after said soldier gets blown to bits by a shell that landed right on him.
  • Meaningful Echo: The Book Ends phrase: "Does it hurt when you walk?"
  • Meaningful Name: Germain Pire. "Pire" means "worse" in French. The character's catchphrase in French is "Pire que la fouine" (literally "worse than a weasel", although in this case it means "more tenacious/nosier than a weasel"), to show how his Private Detective activity is Serious Business.
  • Mood Whiplash: A love story shot in sepia-tinted colour that continually cuts to scenes of unbearable World War I brutality.
  • Nephewism: Mathilde is an orphan raised by her kindly uncle and aunt.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Mathilde occasionally plays up her polio with a wheelchair to put others at discomfort (she can walk, albeit with a limp). She also pulls this in order to elicit more help from her lawyer.
  • Off with His Head!: Tina Lombardi is executed with a guillotine.
  • Private Detective: Mathilde hires private detective Germain Pire to investigate around the surviving soldiers of Manech's regiment to find out if he's alive and where he could be.
  • Protest Song: Six-sous, who's been thrown on the No Man's land to die, sings the Real Life "Song of Craonne" (from 1917), which reflects the soldiers having enough of the immense sacrifices in the conflict's trench warfare (there were mutinies in the French army in 1917, incidentally). He does so while urinating "standing up, like a man" in defiance, facing the Germans and ordering them to open fire at him, which they do.
  • Punny Name: Referring to Mathilde's four-year separation from her fiancé Manech, and the war itself.
  • Remarrying for Your Kids: Benjamin and Elodie Gordes have five children together but none of them is Benjamin's child. Elodie was a single mother of one daughter, while Benjamin was the stepfather of four children. He married a widow to gain custody of her children because she was to die soon.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Benoît Notre-Dame put the dog tag of a dead young French soldier on Manech to conceal his identity. Said soldier's mother comes at the hospital to see him, finds out it's not her son, and treats Manech as if he was her son anyway. She's implied not to be all that sane and projects her love for her son onto Manech as a coping mechanism for the former's death.
  • Scenery Gorn: As typical of a World War I Western Front setting, the No Man's Land and the trenches are dark, muddy and full of dead bodies (or scattered limbs).
  • The Scrounger: Célestin Poux, famed throughout the rank and file for pulling various tricks in order to keep the troops supplied with way more food than they would normally receive.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Several side plots.
    • Biscotte and his wife need another baby to make him retire from war according to law. But he's unfertile (they adopted the other children). Biscotte's friends Bastoche enters the picture, doing them a favor. Ensues instead a love affair that ruins his marriage and friendship with Bastoche, but no baby. Then both men die at war leaving her a widow with five kids to feed.
    • Tina Lombardi's revenge arc, since she gets arrested and put in the Death Row, and before her execution she receives a message from her late Ange telling her to go on with her life and that revenge is pointless.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Given that it's a film set in the trenches of World War I, we see a lot of these, but most explicitly Manech who loses his grip on reality after a few too many close calls (see Ludicrous Gibs above) and barely surviving a plane's machine gun shot in the gut. Manech eventually becomes amnesiac.
  • Shot at Dawn: Notably averted; instead of being shot for cowardice, the five soldiers are sent out in to No-Mans Land to either starve or be shot by the Germans. (Corsican) Ange Bassignano ends up shot in the back by a French nationalist non-commissioned officer after having verbally denied his French nationality to stay alive.
  • Spiteful Spit: Tina Lombardi spits on the blade her lover uses to stab her former pimp. This is a Five-Second Foreshadowing on when she does the same thing... with the man responsible for her lover/pimp's death.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Tina Lombardi murders Asshole Victims who all casually caused the death of desperate soldiers who wanted to desert to escape the hell of war.
  • The Vamp: Tina Lombardi seduces Lavrouye (or at least prostitutes herself to him) in order to get closer and kill him.
  • War Is Hell: A French film, with flashbacks set in the trenches of the battle of the Somme, during a war that caused a big demographic gap in the male population and left hundreds of thousands crippled and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives? You bet it's hell.
    • For example, there's the scenes where the poor French soldiers climb out of the trenches on the No Man's Land and are completely obliterated by German machine gun fire and artillery within seconds. One ends up particularly unlucky as he gets blown to bits by an artillery shell right in front of Manech, who gets covered in his guts and freaks out as a result.
  • World of Jerkass: Corsica is depicted like this, with all the people that Germain Pire meets there either ignoring him, being unsympathetic to him or being downright hostile as soon as he mentions that he's looking for Tina Lombardi.