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?