A Very Long Engagement

Background Information

The film is set in France near the end of World War I (1914-1918) in the deadly trenches of the Somme, in the gilded Parisian halls of power, and in the modest home of an indomitable provincial girl.

The Battle of the Somme (Northern France)
In 1916, before the "Battle of the Somme", British General Haig was hoping that an eight-day preliminary bombardment would completely destroy the German forward defenses. However, the bombardment failed to destroy either the barbed-wire or the concrete bunkers protecting the German soldiers. This meant that the Germans were able to exploit their good defensive positions on higher ground when the British and French troops attacked at 7.30 on the morning of July 1st. The British forces suffered 58,000 casualties (a third of them killed), therefore making it the worse day in the history of the British Army. Haig believed that the Germans were close to the point of exhaustion and continued to order further attacks, expecting each one to achieve the necessary breakthrough. Attacks continued for months. But, in November, with winter weather setting in, Haig brought an end to the Somme offensive. Since the 1st July, the British had suffered 420,000 casualties. The French lost nearly 200,000 men, and it is estimated that German casualties were in the region of 500,000. Allied forces gained some land but it advanced only 12 km (8 miles) at its deepest points. (Excerpts from "The Battle of the Somme", http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWsomme.htm  )

Paris at the Turn of the Century
Before WWI Paris was THE place where life was good and pleasure in all its forms, some more daring than others, was a main goal in life. That period is called ‘La Belle Epoque’ because life was beautiful and ‘la joie de vivre’ was expressed in architecture, decoration, entertainment and the arts. In Montmartre (the northern section of Paris), people drank and danced in cafes, they watched can-can shows in cabarets like the ‘Folies Bergeres’, and they listened to singers criticizing the ultra-conservative government. Toulouse-Lautrec frequented these cafes. They are the ‘milieu’ of his famous posters and paintings.

A new art form was born: Art Nouveau, characterized by flowering, highly decorative forms based on undulating forms found in nature.

The opulent Opéra Garnier visible in the film was designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III. It is the most important symbol of the late 19th century Second Empire baroque style. [That is where ‘Phantom of the Opera’ takes place.]

Brittany (la Bretagne)
Brittany is located on the extreme north-west coast of France. Brittany is distinct from other French regions because of its Celtic heritage. As the name implies, the region has prehistoric and historic connections to Great-Britain. It has rugged cliff coast lines and prehistoric stone monuments similar to Stonehenge in England. Fishing still is an important way of life and its people are known for clinging to traditional beliefs.


Website designed and maintained by Barbara Vigano, Prof. emeritus of French, Mt. San Antonio College