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Responses to World War I in European culture: “A very long engagement”

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  1. Introduction
  2. The film by Jeunet
    1. A magic-realist style
  3. Why the perceptions of war changed so much during the 1st world war
  4. Contrasts between horrific violence in battlefields and ideas of cultural resistance in peacetime
  5. A late 20th century spin given to the traditional representations
  6. the appearance of chocolate in the gruesome sequences
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

War and love could be said to be polar opposites. However, in the film ?A Very Long Engagement (2004) by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the two intertwine, as the main character, Mathilde, a young woman with polio, begins a search for her lost love, a French soldier who was sent into No-Man's Land by French authorities with four others, when they all tried, in various ways, to go A.W.O.L. Taking place after the war, the film mixes the cultural milieu of post-World War I France with gruesome scenes of trench warfare, revealing the emergence of a decided anti-war sentiment, which Mueller contends is a product of late 19th century and post world war I shifts in cultural consciousness.

Prior to the 19th century war was seen as inevitable, a part of life. By the end of the 19th century, those who still proposed war as a positive, enriching experience, believed any war that would be fought would be characterized by the achievement of brevity: two or three month long wars at the max would be all that would be required to achieve its aims.

[...] The name of the trench where the five convicted deserters are sent is entitled Bingo Crepuscular which is, from an artistic point of view, an indication of the way in which the director draws smartly from post World War I artistic culture, in particular the DADA sensibility that began in Zurich before the war was completely over, as well as the photo-collages and paintings of European expressionist artists, from John Heartfield to Otto Dix to Kollowitz. (Apel, 1997) The character of the cook, who we see both in the gruesome sequences in the trenches, and in the aftermath of the war, when he appears as an eclectic bohemian in suspenders, riding a Harley motorcycle, is an icon of resistance and a solid heterosexual masculine representation. [...]


[...] (Mueller: One question that would be worth further study and pursuit is whether the intertwined themes of war and love, as oppositional states, one of death and emptiness, the second of hope and brightness, is truly a post world war I thematic development in culture, a way of society's artists and thinkers, putting into artistic form this switch away from celebration of war to another set of images: war as necessity under circumstances, a fight of right against wrong, but with war itself no longer romanticized as it used to be. [...]


[...] These juxtapositions may are part of the way we use art or culture, since 20th century world war I era modernism, to explore these contradictory states of life: peace and war, love and war, hope and annihilation. (Mueller, 1991) Therefore, specific aspects of early 20th century European culture are embedded in the film, through the use of images and thematic motifs that are often used in war movies, with love positively juxtaposed to the nightmare of warfare, and what this ultimately tells us, contextually about the human spirit as its positive and negative sides unfold in particular historical periods. [...]

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