Film: Un long dimanche de fiançailles - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Film: Un long dimanche de fiançailles
Saturday, 22 January 2005 at 09:56 pm
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Verdict: Un long dimanche de fiançailles ('A very long engagement') is an impressive and emotionally effective piece.

Reasons for watching it: Primarily, rysmiel's review. But also for the reason that I'm sure applies for 90% of its audience: it has the same director and lead actress from Amélie.

Circumstances of watching it: The local arts cinema, at the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre, helpfully decided to show it.

On reading rysmiel's review, I realized that this film must be based on a book I read years ago. The book is very much a mystery novel, with WW1 as incidental background, and the focus in the film is shifted so that it becomes an emotionally powerful account of the horrors of the war and the people whose lives are shattered by it. The mystery element, with Mathilde's search for her fiancé whom everyone else believes is dead, is still there in the film, but it acts as a thread on which to hang images and portraits of the characters involved. I think this shift in emphasis is extremely successful; the mystery elements of the book are about detailed detective work in piecing together the story from fragmentary evidence, and there isn't sufficient action to sustain a film.

The scenes set in the trenches are extremely well done, and as such, extremely distressing. I've seen lots of footage from contemporary newsreels (as I'm sure everyone has), I've read all kinds of accounts, non-fiction, prose and poetry, about the horrors of trench warfare, I spent most of GCSE history studying WW1 including a trip to the battlefields, but I've never come across anything as visceral as this film. It's partly the effect of seeing these scenes in colour and with modern cinematography, of course. But however many times I've tried to imagine it, it's not the same as actually watching a recreation of infantry charge straight onto machine guns. It's also done sensitively, it's not blood and gore for its own sake or worse, for titillation.

The real strength of Un long dimanche de fiançailles is in the characterization. It presents a heart-rendingly clear portrait of the men who were killed, showing glimpses of their normal lives before the war, and it also brings to life the trauma of the survivors and the suffering of those who lost loved ones. It's not as depressing a film as I'm making it sound in this description; Mathilde's quest, which you just know is going to succeed in the end (though the way it does is unexpected) gives an upbeat mode to the film. And it's also very tender, and gently humourous where it needs to be.

Also, Un long dimanche de fiançailles is very, very pretty. The parts of the film that are not set at the Somme battlefield are just gorgeous. The rural French landscapes, the images of 1920 Paris, the costumes, everything. I'd happily go to a gallery based on the film and spend ages gazing at each frame. It's very well worth seeing, even though it's by no means comfortable given the theme.

On the subject of films, I have finally got round to acquiring some DVDs, and I can't get them to work. Has anyone ever tried to play a DVD (using a computer with a DVD player rather than a dedicated player attached to a TV) and not been able to see anything except a rainbow-coloured test card, while the software acts as if the film is playing normally, you can stop or fast-forward or whatever? And does anyone have any clue what this might be a symptom of?


Moooood: touchedmoved
Tuuuuune: Mercury from Holst's Planets
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rysmiel: furious angels
From:rysmiel
Date:January 24th, 2005 03:15 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:15 am (rysmiel's time)
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*hug* I thought you'd have a reaction in this sort of space, and I'm very glad you got the chance to see it.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:January 24th, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 03:49 pm (livredor's time)
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I'm very glad you got the chance to see it.
Well, the only reason I even knew about it at all was your posting about it, and your comments convinced me that I needed to see the film. So thank you.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:January 27th, 2005 07:25 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 07:25 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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Well, between the two of you, you've got me off my tochus to see the film. It's funny; I got myself a copy of Other Paths to Glory, which I'd read last year, a few weeks earlier, and, as you do, picked it up and leafed a bit through it. As a result of which, I found the film resonating strongly with the portrayal of World War I in that book.

Also, Un long dimanche de fiançailles is very, very pretty. The parts of the film that are not set at the Somme battlefield are just gorgeous. The rural French landscapes, the images of 1920 Paris, the costumes, everything.

The use of sumptuous colour is one of Jeunet's hallmarks. And in this case, the dull grays and browns of the trench is, I am sure, quite deliberate, to point up the colours in the other segments of the film. Indeed, the use of gorgeous colours and rich music contrasted to the horror of what was going on in the film reminded me strongly, in this respect, of Unforgiven.

It's not as depressing a film as I'm making it sound in this description; Mathilde's quest, which you just know is going to succeed in the end (though the way it does is unexpected) gives an upbeat mode to the film.

<nods> OTOH there has to be some reason he's not got back in touch with her. And, frankly, if there had been an unmitigatedly happy ending, it would have been a cop-out. This is a film about the horror of World War I. Thousands of people died in it, both horribly and unnecessarily. Tacking on a happy ending would have been untrue to that. But once again Jeunet - or perhaps Japrisot, the book's author - comes through with flying colours.

(It's funny. I thought, afterwards, of course he did; Jeunet's a director you can trust. But only after did it occur to me two of his films, La Cité des Enfants Perdus and Alien 4 didn't really work so much for me.)

the images of 1920 Paris,

The big crowd scenes set in instantly-recognisable landscapes, were just stunning.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:January 27th, 2005 07:58 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 07:58 pm (livredor's time)
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Well, between the two of you, you've got me off my tochus to see the film.
Ooh, yay. I'm so glad you've seen it! Did you go with Hayley in the end, or on your own?

The use of sumptuous colour is one of Jeunet's hallmarks
This is true. But this film is set in pretty bits of Brittany and the Dordogne and... *dreamy*

the dull grays and browns of the trench is, I am sure, quite deliberate, to point up the colours in the other segments of the film
Yes, good point. Though in fact, I was so busy being thrown out of the loop by seeing images of WW1 in colour that I didn't particularly perceive the trench scenes as dull.

And, frankly, if there had been an unmitigatedly happy ending, it would have been a cop-out.
I agree entirely. It would have been absolutely awful if the film had ended with Mathilde and Manech flying into eachothers' arms with the violins playing.

Jeunet - or perhaps Japrisot, the book's author - comes through with flying colours.
The ending is straight out of the book, yeah. In fact, in the book the narrative continues after the initial reunion with a flash forward covering Manech's slow recovery and the difficulties of rebuilding a relationship with a very damaged man. I was really quite surprised how closely the film follows the plot of the book, despite the very different emphasis. The main differences are slight changes in the characters, I don't remember the detective was quite such a ridiculously OTT figure in the book, plus there's the thing of Mathilde's disability being played down. Which I meant to talk about and then forgot.

The one thing I think was missing from Tautou's Mathilde was a sense of how very sheltered she was and then suddenly finding herself coming face to face with the horrors of war. She came across much more as a modern, streetwise woman who follows the news and is in touch with political reality. Yes, she's very determined in her refusal to be daunted by the horror of what she learns, but the horror is still there, whereas the film Mathilde didn't seem to be much affected by it.

And I agree with you about the Paris crowd scenes, just wonderful!
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:January 27th, 2005 08:44 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 08:44 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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Ooh, yay. I'm so glad you've seen it! Did you go with Hayley in the end, or on your own?

With Hayley, who knows how to get cheap tickets. (£4.50 with Orange's half-price Wednesday offer, as against £9 full price.)

Though in fact, I was so busy being thrown out of the loop by seeing images of WW1 in colour that I didn't particularly perceive the trench scenes as dull.

I scarcely noticed that at all. What I did notice was, on trailers for a series on Five (IIRC) entitled "World War I In Colour" (presumably they'd chosen suitable colours by hand, then got a computer to fill in the same objects in subsequent frames the same colours) how much more hard-hitting it was to see it in colour.

The ending is straight out of the book, yeah. In fact, in the book the narrative continues after the initial reunion with a flash forward covering Manech's slow recovery and the difficulties of rebuilding a relationship with a very damaged man.

I get the impression from you comments above that he was more badly damaged in the book than the film, or than the film made clear, at least.

Incidentally, what kind of a name is Manech? Is it short for anything? Why's the 'ch' hard? And does it have any cognates I know?

The one thing I think was missing from Tautou's Mathilde was a sense of how very sheltered she was and then suddenly finding herself coming face to face with the horrors of war. She came across much more as a modern, streetwise woman who follows the news and is in touch with political reality.

Though it is made clear she lives in an environment both very rural and pretty cut off.

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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:February 1st, 2005 03:05 pm (UTC)
9 days after journal entry, 03:05 pm (livredor's time)
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With Hayley, who knows how to get cheap tickets. (£4.50 with Orange's half-price Wednesday offer, as against £9 full price.)
London is scary. I paid full price because the only time I could really manage to go to the cinema was Saturday evening, and it was still less than that. But good for Hayley, anyway.

how much more hard-hitting it was to see it in colour
I guess that since you'd seen a colour version of it already, it wouldn't have had the same shock value as it did for me.

I get the impression from you comments above that he was more badly damaged in the book than the film, or than the film made clear, at least.
It seemed pretty clear to me in the film; I mean, to start with he was standing around carving initials into tree trunks in the middle of No Man's Land. And being amnesiac to the extent of accepting a complete stranger as his mother sounds pretty damaged to me. He also came across as extremely child-like in the final scene. It's true that the film didn't make it explicit how very tricky it would be to have an adult, romantic relationship with someone like that, as the book did, but I think the implication was there.

Incidentally, what kind of a name is Manech?
Eh, I'm guessing it's Breton.

Why's the 'ch' hard?
I do not know; I had been pronouncing it as soft in my head when I read the book and was a bit thrown to notice that the name wasn't as I thought it was.

And does it have any cognates I know?
I don't know that either. I am really clueless about celtic languages, clueless beyond the level of simply not speaking a word of them. But I'm amused that you also picked up on this unusual name, because I was thinking much the same thoughts.

Though it is made clear she lives in an environment both very rural and pretty cut off.
I suppose. I think what was lacking was more a psychological impression than the actual setting. I mean, the thing is, a modern person living in rural Brittany has a TV and internet access and is generally aware of the world in a way that someone in 1920 wouldn't have been. And I don't think the film really underlined how cut off she was, certainly not to the extent the book did.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 2nd, 2005 07:07 pm (UTC)
10 days after journal entry, 07:07 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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London is scary.

How much is the cinema in Dundee again?

I get the impression from you comments above that he was more badly damaged in the book than the film, or than the film made clear, at least.
It seemed pretty clear to me in the film; I mean, to start with he was standing around carving initials into tree trunks in the middle of No Man's Land.

I got the impression his amnesia was due to the trauma of being wounded and left to die for the best part of a day out in the middle of no-man's-land. At the time he was carving Ms in the tree trunk, he had not yet been wounded, and, though not necessarily very sane at that point ("once the execution is over I can go straight back home"), I doubt he was mentally damaged in the way he later became. Is there any evidence for this in the book?

Incidentally, what kind of a name is Manech?
Eh, I'm guessing it's Breton.

Googling reveals it's a place name. It doesn't seem to ordinarily be a personal name at all.
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