I believe it was Dennis Leary who said that A Very Long Engagement was "the ultimate date movie". The reason why is that it has something for both men and women. Essentially, it's a love story and a war story, only it's a good one, unlike that cynical piece of dreck Pearl Harbor. It does a much better job of conveying both the horror of war and and the power of love and hope than Michael Bay's schlockfest could ever hope to accomplish, and I will stop sullying this review of a great movie with any more Pearl Harbor references (starting NOW).
It's actually been a while since I've watched the DVD that I own. I saw it in the theaters, and I've watched it at least twice since I bought it. It's one that I don't watch by myself though, as my wife would no doubt be upset if I watched it without her, as it's one of her favorites as well. It's a shame that more people haven't seen it, and a big part of that is because it's not in English - it's a French film. It's one thing when I hear teenagers scoff at the idea of reading subtitles, but I've met adults who are the same way - as they wouldn't even consider watching a foreign film. (To be fair, the teenagers are much better about this sort of a thing. Perhaps it's due to the rise of quality films from Hong Kong and Apocalypto.) This is too bad for those people, as by most of the foreign films that make it here are usually pretty good. I'm sure that the French, Germans, etcetera all produce their fair share of crap, but that stuff tends to not cross the Atlantic.
With that said, I'm no doubt going to forget about some of the plot elements of the story along with moments and reasons why it's so good. (And this provides a nice incentive for me to watch it again.) Basically, the story is about Mathilde, who conducts a vigorous search for her fiance, Manech, who went missing during World War I. He was supposed to be executed for deliberately injuring himself to get out of combat, but Mathilde holds out hope and refuses to believe that he's dead.
The one thing that I really remember the most, aside from the bittersweet ending, is what a visually stunning movie this is. Not only are there horrific scenes of trench warfare (don't get me wrong, this isn't a gratuitously gory film) but there are several stunningly beautiful moments. The one that stands out in my mind is when a young Mathilde is taken up to the top of the lighthouse by Manech. Later on, when they're grown, there's another scene where he carries her up, as she experienced a bout of polio and had limited movements in her legs.
There's much more to this whole story than her search for Manech, as there were several other soldiers who were also to be executed. She learns about each one of them, and there are many smaller stories within the overall arc of the main one. Still, what keeps you involved is how relentless she is, and how she absolutely refuses to give up. What's also great are her aunt and uncle who loyally and lovingly assist her in her pursuit. Despite all the signs, Mathilde continues to mirror the albatross who continues to fly against the wind, because as we all know, "An albatross is very stubborn."