‘A Very Long Engagement’ Essay
Japrisot’s (the pseudonym of French author Jean-Baptiste Rossi) 1991 novel “A Very Long Engagement” (Un long Dimanche de Fiançailles) deals with the agonizing relations between the soldiers who fought in the nightmare of the First World War and the men and women who were left behind. The book and its 2004 film adaption by Jean-Pierre Jeunet take us to post-WWI France, where we follow the heroine’s journey among colorful characters to find the traces of her lost fiancé.
This paper deals with one of these vibrant characters. A femme fatale played by Marion Cotillard, Tina Lombardi is a temperamental prostitute who is obsessed with a journey of her own – a path of revenge against those who sent her man to the bloody battlefield, a journey that leads her to the guillotine. A lot of insights about the film adaption can be learned from the changes in Tina’s character; some of those ideas are discussed below, accompanied by examples of Tina’s behavior in both media.
The Development of Tina’s Character
Japrisot’s Tina is entirely different from Jeunet’s. While discussing issues such as war and love (see below), Japrisot maintains a detective story under Mathilde’s strict direction. Hence, the novel keeps Tina at a relatively low profile, although the reader would surely like to know her better, a wish fulfilled in the film. Jeunet pulls avenging Tina out of the mailbox; in his work, Tina no longer another piquant hint in Mathilde’s way to find her man. Jeunet translates Tina’s decision to murder the officers that sent Ange (her pimp and, awkwardly, her lover) to his unnecessary death; he develops dialogues between the two women, presenting her killing spree in careful detail and casts the exotic Cotillard to confront Mathilde with her anti-heroine – the beautiful Corsican dark angle.
War and Honor
The issue of WWI is perceived in the French narrative as a dark part in the country’s long history of wars, a notion that underpinned the novel’s phenomenal success. While not hesitating to emphasize the brutality and foolishness of the war, Japrisot is careful not the blame the French civilian society as the whole. It is done by keeping Mathilde’s love and agony pure and she pursues the truth honestly. Tina, on the other hand, is a clear anti-heroine: lacking any moral constraints (“I am not scared. And I regret nothing. Except my hair.”), the prostitute lets her fury, not her sorrow, to lead her actions. Thus, the French reader has the privilege to see Tina’s murders as an elegant response to the victim – the French society, whose young was unjustly “tossed into that meat grinder,” and keeps her dramatic role in the form of letters.
As in many other Hollywood productions, though this one is slightly longer and in French, the film version tries to avoid challenging his audience. Known for his extensive use of pyrotechnics and special effects (as in his 1997 “Alien: Resurrection”) Jeunet’s brutal battle scenes bring an unavoidable drive to compare between Tina’s murders and the war:
Jeunet’s Tina retains her fine and calculated façon, both in her crimes as well as in her dialogs. She is a prostitute who revenges the death of a panderer, but probably not an animal. The war scenes are perhaps equally intense, but the battle zone deaths are quick, random and filthy.
Tina’s Love Life
Although Jeunet’s Tina wishes to meet with Mathilde because “We’re very similar,” the original Tina does not take an essential role in the storyline (and of course never meets with Mathilde) but is used to illustrate and sharpen some of the work’s central themes. One of Japrisot’s main messages is a comparison between the love affairs of the two heroines, one is very romantic, while the untrained eye may see the other as an artificial affair between a prostitute and her pimp.
By developing Tina’s character and letting the two women interact, the movie amplifies the original equation, which deals with one missing “variable,” namely our perception of the love affair:
Both women have some similar biographical lines (e.g., orphanage) linked through the battlefield.
Their men are also equal – just two more “French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that’s the way of the world.” The officers gave the two the same verdict and left their mates with the corresponding lost. And yet, it is up to us the complete the last variable in this equation – to recognize that the two different romances are equally legitimate, and undoubtedly much more pure and beautiful than the path of misery conducted by the blindness of the French society at the time.
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