C'est la guerre
"A Very Long Engagement" reunites "Amˇlie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and actress Audrey Tautou in a much more grave but still deftly original fable of World War I.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Christmastide, apparently, begets the Epic Romance.
Last December ushered in "Cold Mountain," that based-on-the-best-selling-novel-by-Charles-Frazier love story set amid the American Civil War and starring Nicole Kidman as the Blue Ridge mountaineer pining for her long lost love (Jude Law, the errant soldier struggling to return home). Likewise, this holiday season we're treated to the engaging French drama "A Very Long Engagement" ("Un Long Dimanche de Fian¨ailles"), Jean-Pierre Jeunet's heroic tale framed against the trenches of WWI and starring Audrey Tautou as the crippled young woman pining for her long lost love (Gaspard Ulliel plays her fiancˇe, believed mort in combat).
I didn't much care for "Cold Mountain." Certainly it was "meticulously detailed and handsomely crafted" but at 155 minutes it was also overly long and since its protagonists were separated for much of that running time there wasn't a whole lot of romance going on. "A Very Long Engagement" is, likewise, meticulously detailed and handsomely crafted and keeps its central couple uncoupled for well over two hours yet, oddly enough, this one works.
|A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT|
|Original title: Un long dimanche de fian¨ailles.|
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant.
Adapted from the novel by: Sˇbastien Japrisot.
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, Clovis Cornillac, Marion Cotillard, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Julie Depardieu, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Andrˇ Dussollier, Ticky Holgado, Tchˇky Karyo, Jˇr™me Kircher, Denis Lavant, Chantal Neuwirth, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Paul Rouve, Jodie Foster.
Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel.
Edited by: Hervˇ Schneid.
In French with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
It works because Tautou's Mathilde (not unlike her Amˇlie Poulain "A Very Long Engagement" reunites the director and star of 2001's whimsical success story "Amˇlie") is someone we care about (unlike, say, Kidman's Ada). We care about Mathilde because of her devotion, her condition, and her optimism. A polio victim from the age of three, Mathilde, who walks with a limp, is strongly defiant and relentless in her pursuits, forever setting herself little "challenges" to help dictate the future, e.g., "if the train enters the tunnel before the count of ten then Manech is alive!"
Manech, the object of Mathilde's affections, was one of five French soldiers facing court-martial for self-mutilation (extreme sleights of hand aimed at guaranteeing discharge from the whole bloody business). Their sentence, however, was to fend for themselves in that No Man's Land between the warring French and German forces. But since there are no actual witnesses to Manech's ultimate demise, Mathilde simply considers him to be missing, undertaking as she does an obsessive, single-minded campaign to unearth the truth.|
We're reminded of "Amˇlie" often, what with the impish Tautou front and center and Jeunet's eclectic directorial style weighing in with voiceover narration, inserts/overlays, and concise personal histories. But "A Very Long Engagement" is a much more serious departure, pitting the breadth and obscenity of war against a more intimate human drama. The film is beautifully shot (by Bruno Delbonnel), often in sepia tones that give it a mature elegance, with battle scenes as brutal as they are breathtakingly realized, the ubiquitous mud and scattered body parts starkly contrasting with the pastoral beauty of Mathilde's bucolic home life. The script based on the novel by Sˇbastien Japrisot is brisk and involving, and Angelo Badalamenti's score soars.
Tautou is once again elfin perfection in the lead with the accompanying cast of characters worthy counterparts (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon plays Mathilde's surrogate father Sylvain, Tchˇky Karyo is an army captain, and that's Jodie Foster in a small and fluent role as Elodie Gordes).|
"A Very Long Engagement" reminds us that, as much for Jeunet and Tautou as for Mathilde and Manech, you can go home again. Here's hoping this consummate film's theatrical run aptly reflects its title.
|DECEMBER 20, 2004|
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Reader comments on A Very Long Engagement:
WOW! from jackie, Jun 5, 2005
Good from Miguel Angel Cruz Becerra, Jan 28, 2006
oh... from Joshua, Sep 12, 2006
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