A Very Long Engagement (2003)


  

Our Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewer: Shannon H.

   

Romance has exceeded and lasted beyond all limits of war. The idea of two, young lovers separated by warfare has been used and re-used by authors and filmmakers. Ernest Hemingway used it in his novel A Farewell to Arms and it was also seen in the movie In Love and War. The film  is no different but it is not the typical, formulaic sappy love story.

Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a 20-year-old woman stricken with polio, is lonely. Her fiance and childhood friend Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) had been missing for three years, since 1917, when he was sent to serve the French Army in World War One. The reports sent to her claims he was executed along with four other soldiers for self-inflicted wounds. Mathilde feels that her fiance is still alive, regardless of what others say to her. She decides to search for her beloved, traveling all around France and Paris, searching for clues, and speaking with war survivors as well as Manech's comrades (who affectionately called him "Cornflower"). Her contacts and clues continue to lead her to disappointment until she finally gets word that Manech, along with the four condemned men, received a pardon.

Mathilde has been told that Manech was fatally wounded on the battlefield by a German fighter plane (while he was carving his and Mathilde's initials on a tree). Still convinced that her beau is still alive, Mathilde keeps hoping and wishing and playing the tuba for therapy. Her legal guardians occasionally tell her to give up because even if Manech were taken to a hospital, he would've died of his wounds anyway. Desperate, she puts an ad in the local newspaper, which attracts one of Manech's fellow officers who provides her with important information that could lead her to finding her lost love. A Very Long Engagement is rated R for violence and sex. In the first 20 minutes of the film, there were at least 15 acts of violence. French soldiers are constantly being shot at, some are seen giving each other self-inflicted gun shot wounds in their hands, another man survives being mowed down by gunfire. Another man is stabbed in the buttocks as reparation.

 

A prostitute kills a fat French army officer by shooting into a glass ceiling and letting the falling shards stab him in the stomach. There are countless other scenes of violence. Sex is just as prevalent, with four graphic scenes, one of them involving nudity, another involving sodomy, and another involving manual stimulation. There are countless shots of prostitutes parading around in girdles in brothels. One woman has sexually arousing dreams in her sleep. There are some references to promiscuity and adultery. A woman's bare backside is seen as a man massages her (not sexual; the massages are supposed to be therapeutic).  A French soldier jokingly urinates in one of his buddies' helmets. Profanity is moderate; one use of a**, four uses of bast***, four uses of d***, and four uses of s***. The film has very few Christian values. Sexuality is flaunted everywhere, which may reinforce stereotypes that the French have sex on the brain. Lovers are seen "doing the deed" before marriage, which is in violation of God's Word that sex is to be saved for marriage. No one is seen praying to God for help in any situation. The Church, surprisingly, isn't seen as oppressive (one of Mathilde's contacts is a priest who provides her with valuable information). Throughout the time that Manech was missing, Mathilde was completely faithful and never slept with other men. Another positive aspect of the movie was that Mathilde never gave up. She never forgot her fiance and continued to search for him even when the outcome looked grim.

I liked this movie. I'm not a fan of truly sappy love stories and I enjoyed this one because there is a great deal of humor in it. It isn't a romantic comedy but its humor offsets the sappiness, so to speak. The sexuality in the film could be eliminated as well as the cussing (if interested in this film, see about putting it through a Christian filtering service). The acting, the direction, the cinematography, and the soundtrack are well done. I recommend this film only to be seen through a filtering device and be sure to look for Jodie Foster in a brief role as a French housewife.

 

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