A Very Long Engagement
(Un long dimanche de fiançailles)

audrey tautou

A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles)
Made in: France
Language: French
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominique Pinon, Chantal Neuwirth, Ticky Holgado, Jérôme Kircher, Jodie Foster, Marion Cotillard
Year: 2004

Synopsis: During the first World War, a young, drafted French soldier named Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), along with four fellow soldiers, get court-martialed and sentenced to death. Their crime: deliberately injuring themselves so as to avoid having to fight on the front lines.

The specific terms of the sentence called for Manech and his four comrades to be sent out alone on the battlefield against the Germans just prior to a French assault. In the bloody chaos, Manech is never heard from again.

Hearing this news, Manech's fiancee Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) refuses to believe that he's dead. A few years after the war, Mathilde clings to hope and begins an exhaustive search by tracking down survivors and veterans who knew Manech.

Frequently traveling to all parts of France, Mathilde follows clue after clue, and encounters a number of shocking and unexpected discoveries along the way.

The Good: A Very Long Engagement is a complicated but well-structured movie overall. Mostly a love story, but in many ways a mystery as well, the film is so detailed and full of strong emotions that you'll feel it could be satisfying with either a sad or happy ending.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet does an excellent job expressing the traumatic impact of war by focusing on a handful of characters, and Audrey Tautou gives a subtle yet powerful performance.

Playing a reserved character, she never forces her presence on the audience yet somehow manages to project a strong sense of determination and strength. I don't know how she did it, but it worked.

Visually A Very Long Engagement looks beautiful, and if you're familiar with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's previous work, you'll notice his signature lighting style. This film has the look and feel of Jeunet's earlier fantasy films, but this time he handles the subject matter with more realism and seriousness than the acclaimed Amelie, for example.

From a storytelling standpoint, Mathilde's search for the truth is pretty compelling. Told mostly through flashbacks and from accounts of specific individuals, the plot becomes more and more fascinating as clues emerge and pieces of the mystery fall into place.

The Bad: This is a slow-paced movie with lots of details to keep track of. There are a lot of important characters as well, and since many of them have similar mustaches it's often hard to remember who's who.

Who would like this movie: A Very Long Engagement is a very long film, and is not for everyone. On the one hand, it's a touching love story but many of the war scenes are graphic and bloody, so take heed.

After all, the guy who directed this movie also did Alien: Resurrection so he's not going to shy away from showing you some splatter.

You'll enjoy A Very Long Engagement if you've already become a fan of international movies, or happen to really like Jean-Pierre Jeunet's work. If you've never seen too many foreign films or are just starting to try them out, I wouldn't start with this one.

But if you're taking an interest in art house stuff and are developing an eye for film aesthetics and analysis, then this foreign film will shape up to be a satisfying experience.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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