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Film / A Very Long Engagement

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

The story set in 1919. Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) was engaged to her childhood sweetheart Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) when he was enlisted 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. Mathilde, however, refuses to believe that Manech is dead, and sets out on an investigation to find him. Along the way, she meets people who are also connected to the five condemned soldiers, including vengeful prostitute Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), and learns their stories.


This film provides examples of:

  • Amnesiac Lover: Manech.
  • Asshole Victims: Tina Lombardi's victims. All of them.
  • Best Served Cold: Tina Lombardi's vengeance.
  • 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 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.
  • Break the Cutie: Manech, hard.
  • Chained to a Bed: Lavrouye when he is trapped by Tina Lombardi.
  • Cultural Translation: There's a few of these in the English subs.
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  • Dirty Old Man: Major François Lavrouye.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Benoît Notre-Dame miraculously survives two direct hits from mortar shells.
  • Dwindling Party: The fates of the five soldiers are revealed slowly as the story unravels.
  • 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 by the German plane), so a realistic cause is possible. However, both procedural and declarative memory seem to be affected ("He even had to learn to read and write again.").
  • Epic Movie: By French cinema standards, it surely is one.
  • Fanservice: Audrey Tautou, in a few scenes. In one in particular, she looks like she should be riding a clamshell.
  • Femme Fatale: Tina Lombardi to a tee; a prostitute who goes about assassinating the people involved with the death of her boyfriend and ruthless procurer.
  • 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. Whilst 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.
  • 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 fart, joy on my head").
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Most of the events of the film are set in 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: The driving force of the plot.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    Maître Rouvières: Tes parents...
    Mathilde: Feu mes parents. (a French expression to insist on the fact that her parents are dead, similar to late)
  • Jerkass: Lavrouye, the officer who ignored Poincaré's pardon and sent the soldiers into the no-man's land.
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning
  • Kill 'Em All: The scenes where the poor French soldiers climb on the No Man's Land and are completely obliterated by German machine gun fire and artillery within seconds.
  • Lingerie Scene
  • 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."
  • Ludicrous Gibs: A horribly realistic version, with Manech showered with the giblets of another soldier after said soldier gets blown up by a shell.
  • Meaningful Echo: The Book-Ends, "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" (worse than weasel), to show how his private investigator activity is Serious Business.
  • Mood Whiplash: A love story shot in sepia-tinted colour that continually cuts to scenes of unbearable brutality.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Mathilde occasionally plays up her polio with a wheelchair to put others at discomfort.
  • Private Detective: Germain Pire.
  • Punny Name: Referring to Mathilde's four-year separation from her fiancé Manech, and the war itself.
  • The Scrounger: Célestin Poux, famed throughout the rank and file for pulling various tricks in order to keep the troops supplied with food.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Given that it's a film set in the trenches, 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 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.
  • 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.
  • War Is Hell: A French film, with flashbacks set in the trenches of the battle of the Somme, during a war where France lost 9% of its male population and left thousands crippled and emotionally scarred? You bet it's hell.
  • Wheelchair Woobie: In-universe; although crippled by polio, Mathilde can still walk, but she pulls this trope in order to elicit more help from her lawyer.


Example of: