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A Very Long Engagement (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 4 documentaries. Trailers.

THE tragedy and senselessness of war is strikingly offset by the magic of love in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's stunning follow-up to Amelie, which successfully reunites the director with Audrey Tautou and provides audiences with another memorable experience.

Based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagement (or Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles as it is known in France) is a far more ambitious film than Amelie that provides a more expansive showcase for Jeunet's extravagant flair for movie-making.

Set around the First World War, the film chronicles the tireless search of Tautou's Mathilde for her long-lost fiance, Manech, who may have perished in the hell of the Trenches.

Manech was one of five French soldiers who was convicted of self-mutilation (in a bid to discharge themselves) and sent to the front to face near-certain death in no-man's-land.

All five are subsequently reported dead or missing, but Mathilde refuses to concede defeat until she has proof that Manech perished, embarking on a daring and often humourous quest to find him after the war, despite being partially crippled by the effects of a childhood bout of polio.

Her ensuing adventure is packed with warm moments and colourful characters - as we have come to expect from Jeunet - that consistently manage to place a smile on the face, while serving as a telling reminder that hope can prevail even during the darkest hours.

And they don't come much darker than in the confines of the trenches, which are graphically depicted by Jeunet, as he recalls the fate of the five French prisoners via a series of flashbacks, as news of their plight is relayed via the survivors Mathilde meets along the way.

Jeunet creates a living hell, caked in mud and rat-infested, that is as realistic a depiction of Trench warfare as Spielberg's gruelling take on the Normandy Beach Invasion in Saving Private Ryan.

Yet it is neatly offset by the idyllic French countryside in which Mathilde lives - and from which Jenuet triggers many happy memories of the couple's developing romance.

It is a near-perfect balance, that serves as both a sweeping romance and a pertinent reminder of the horror and futility of war.

Performance-wise, the film also delivers in spades, with Tautou standing out as the naive but completely adorable Mathilde, whose fierce determination is often fuelled by the simplest of gestures.

She is ably supported by the likes of Jeunet regular, Dominique Pinon, as her loyal uncle; Gaspard Ulliel, as the youthful Manech; Clovis Cornillac, as an eccentric investigator; and, perhaps more surprisingly, Jodie Foster, as a widower, who slips effortlessly into the French language.

At a little under two and a half hours, there may be some viewers who find Mathilde's journey unnecessarily long and a touch repetitive, but such criticisms are niggling when compared to the overall quality of the piece.

For this, at the end of the day, is a magical quest that will surely rate among the best films of this, or any, year.

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