Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
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
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
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
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.