A Very Long Engagement

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
A Very Long Engagement Movie Poster Image
Beautiful WWI love story with gruesome battle scenes.
  • R
  • 2004
  • 133 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The message that hope and love can ultimately triumph over the horror and ravages of war is portrayed in a powerful way.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In spite of a death notice and eyewitness accounts to the contrary, Mathilde refuses to believe her fiance Manech has perished during the trench warfare of World War One, and stops at nothing until she finds out the truth. Her dedication to love and truth are romantic and admirable.


An unsparing portrayal of the ravages of World War I -- the violence and death of battle is graphically shown throughout the film. The gruesome injuries of the soldiers are on full display. Also, in one of the subplots of the story, a vengeful prostitute is shown killing the men who sent her lover to be slaughtered on battlefield.


While not graphic, characters are seen having sex. Halfway through the film, a character's buttocks are exposed as she undergoes a massage treatment.  


The word "s--t" is yelled on the battlefield several times. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of wine drinking (it's France).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this beautifully rendered story of romantic love set in France in the years during and after World War I pulls no punches in showing the death and destruction of trench warfare. The gruesome battle and murder scenes will be difficult for some viewers. Also, as this is ultimately -- above the layers of war and mystery -- a romance, there are brief sexual situations without nudity throughout the film as well. 

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Teen, 15 years old Written byLegend736 April 5, 2012

What's the story?

During World War I, five French soldiers face court martial after attempting to injure themselves into escaping the terrors of trench warfare. Instead of being executed or pardoned, they are sent back into the "No Man's Land" of the war to die at the hands of their German enemies. Through bureaucratic mix-ups and massive casualties, no one is sure what ultimately happens to these five soldiers. One of the five, a young man named Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) who has been driven mad by the ugliness he has seen on the battlefield, is engaged to Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a polio victim, who, in spite of receiving Manech's death notice, is convinced he is somewhere still alive. She will stop at nothing until she finds out once and for all what happened to the love of her life. She embarks on a quest to find out the truth.

Is it any good?

A Very Long Engagement is one of those films that gets even better with repeated viewing. Besides being the film that reunited the director and star of Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou, respectively), it's many film genres rolled into one: an unsanitized war film, an engaging detective story, and, ultimately, a transcendent love story. That Jeunet is able to make these many levels in genre, story, and style look easy (as well as visually stunning) stands as a testament to his achievement. 

While the first viewing is enjoyable enough, the story twists, turns, and jumps can leave you temporarily disoriented; this is one of those wonderful movies where new discoveries are made each time you see it. While the battle scenes will be considered gruesome by some, they are unsparingly shown to make the audience understand what would drive these five soldiers to the desperate acts of injuring themselves in order to be sent home and away from their hellish circumstances. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how war -- and the soldiers' reactions to war -- is portrayed in this film. How is this similar and different to other films set around wartime? 

  • How is the violence handled in this movie? What elements of the film (lighting, music, cinematography) affect the way the violence is experienced by the viewer?

  • Many different film genres are explored in this film: war, mystery, romance. What type of movie do you ultimately think this is?

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