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A Very Long Engagement (2004) - Review

A Very Long Engagement (French: Un long dimanche de fiançailles) is a 2004 romantic war film, co-written and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Five French soldiers are convicted of self-mutilation in order to escape military service during World War I. They are condemned to face near-certain death in the no man's land between the French and German trench lines.

The film beautifully explores the realtionships of many people suffering through world war 1 and the after effects too. Jeunet shows this through a sombre and dark toned lense which lets audiences ruminate on what they are actually watching.

The story is in fact a detective story. In the years after the Second World War, there were a number of thrillers that turned on mysterious wartime incidents being investigated in the postwar world - Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence, for instance, and, in a more lighthearted vein, Stanley Donen's Charade. But A Very Long Engagement is altogether more complicated than these and its meaning goes to the heart of the conduct of the war.

I don't want to spoil any of the plot but it's a remarkably rich movie, full of detail, and it grips and entertains like a detective story while never losing sight of the horrors of war. The sequences of artillery bombardment of the trenches and of soldiers being mown down by machine-gun fire are among the most terrifying and viscerally affecting ever filmed.

I highly recommend it.