A Very French Engagement

Whenever I return home from a stressful day and I feel the urge to recluse and fall into a plot, I always turn on 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or some other lightweight comedic relief. Two weeks ago, I watched Stranger Things because a good friend of mine was too scared to watch it alone and for the first time in a long time I was completely ensconced in a plot line I didn’t already know back to front. A narrator in the podcast said that people seek out their own entertainment, and I absolutely gravitate towards comfort. When I am energized and having a productive day, I will try a new Spotify playlist and hunt for music. If I’m tired, I will lean into my favorite playlists and artists that I love. I am often tired- especially at school. At the same time, college is a time that we as students should be pushing to try new things- but I walk around to class listening to the same ten songs every day.

My chosen piece of media was the foreign film Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles or A Very Long Engagement by director Jean- Pierre Jeunet. I watched it on Amazon Instant Video, and I chose it because the cover looked like a romance movie which would fit into my typical film genre- the twist being I do not watch foreign films and this movie is in French. I like the transportive value of movies about human relationships, I think the reason that I have always watched them in English is because it takes much less work from me. For whatever reason, I always opt for the no-subtitles solution when it comes to picking a movie for myself.

As it turned out, the movie was nothing like the predictable romance that its generic love cover art insinuated. A great deal of the movie took place on the battlefront of WW1 and while the relationship between the two protagonists was the driving force behind the film, they actually don’t interact at all during the majority of the movie because Manech is away first at was then goes missing. This movie made me absolutely sad, it was an emotional rollercoaster because they keep drawing me into different sub plot lines and then peppering in hope for the main character’s wellbeing throughout. I thought that this movie was a lot different from most of the romantic movies that I have seen in that it felt more complex. There were a bunch of smaller plot lines of minor characters that painted a much more rich picture of the story as a whole, but I think that American romance movies function more as a solar system where every other part of the plot revolves quietly around this one great source of driving energy which is the main protagonists. I loved the complexity, and that I had to work to keep up with the storyline. The subtitles also became background noise once I got used to them- completely unnoticeable. I would definitely seek out more foreign films, not even necessarily romantic movies. I think that the perspective of the movie and the tone was less narcissistic than other American romance movies like Titanic because it delved into the lives and relationships of the secondary and even somewhat tertiary characters so deeply so create a plot that was tat much more rich.

There is a feeling of satisfaction when you conquer a new popular culture medium. Finishing a podcast I’ve never heard or a season of TV I’ve never seen can often make me feel like I have accomplished something and see the world in a different way (obviously the extent of this feeling is dependent on the content of the media I consumed). Going outside of your comfort zone to break out of your rut is truly important because you can learn so much more about yourself by exposing yourself to new media. Like Althusser’s idea of interpolation, a new book or song could “hail” you in a way you have never identified with before (Althusser, 343). For instance, my favorite movie growing up and to this day is Mona Lisa Smile which hailed me as a female academic and as a vitriolic feminist- two things which I did not even identify in myself until later in high school. In terms of A Very Long Engagement I really looked at the differences between cultures in America and in France apparent from one movie. The French have a quirkiness, and seem very buttoned up but at the same time have this vast expanse of human emotion that is almost kept under wraps- a lot to do with the plot. That seems a spectrum away from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet flinging themselves at each other on the Titanic. So much of the movie seemed so odd, even the sequences in which they shot a scene, it seemed like everything was cut to be weird- which I loved. I also think that the fact it was filmed in 2004 is relevant. In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq under the pretense of “weapons of mass destruction” and suicide bombings were taking place in places like Madrid so there was a lot of geopolitical unrest. If understood in a Marxist manner, through the context in which it was created, A Very Long Engagement echoes the fears and horrors of war on the home front as unrest grows in the world and the personal sacrifices and tolls that it takes (Althusser, 340).

Althusser, Louis (1971), Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, Lenin and Philosophy, New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 142-6

Jeunet, Jean-Pierre, (2004) Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles



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