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A Very Long Engagement

(Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles)

After the amazing success of Amelie, all eyes were on Audrey Tautou to see what she would do next. In terms of films released domestically, she's done a pretty good job picking roles that would establish her depth, whether or not the films worked (L'Auberge Espagnole, He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not). Dirty Pretty Things, her first English language film, was fantastic, but like her other releases, were ignored. It's unlikely that the same fate will befall A Very Long Engagement, as it reteams her with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed Amelie. A Very Long Engagement, based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot, is a sweeping epic set in World War I, about the endless love a woman has for her fiance. It sounds a little pretentious, and at times is.

Jeunet (Amelie, Alien: Resurrection) is a master visual stylist. His little flourishes helped make Amelie so charming, and he does the same thing her with flashes of light, bursts of color, and quick zooms with his camera. There is a great scene where Tautou holds an umbrella and rides on the shoulders of another man in a field of wildflowers. He and co-writer Guillaume Laurant (Strange Gardens, Amelie) fill the story with a variety of characters, all with their quirky traits. Then, he takes things a step further and tries to comment on the evils and pointlessness of war. It's pretty ambitious on his part, but his statement on war does not quite mesh with the other main story, that of Mathilde (Tautou) searching for her fiance Manech (Gaspar Ulliel, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Strayed).

Trench soldiers in World War I could escape duty with a legitimate injury. Thus, many soldiers faked injuries to try to get home. Manech and four other men were sentenced to desertion for faking injuries, and their punishment was to stay out in the no man's land area between the French and the Germans. Two survived, and Mathilde believes that Manech was one of them. Mathilde's quest involves tracking down everybody involved with the trial and the friends and relatives of the various soldiers in order to interview them and ascertain who the survivors were. Also working towards this goal is Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard, Love Me If You Dare, Big Fish), by far the most interesting person in the film. Jodie Foster (Panic Room, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) even shows up in a French-speaking cameo.

By telling each person's story, Jeunet hopes to cast an epic feel to the film, giving a bigger picture of world events. He shows the vast differences present in the various soldiers, and how the events affect them all. There is also Mathilde, whose limp is a reminder of her childhood polio. She and Manech grew up and fell in love over the years, so she feels an especially close connection to him. She's smart and determined; Amelie without the light, whimsical feel. Her aunt makes a cute comment every time their dog farts, their mailman loves stopping on gravel. Jeunet wants to humanize these characters by presenting these traits, but these little touches of humor do not fit with the war story. He instead gives the film a fractured feel to it. And A Very Long Engagement is a very long movie. Two and a quarter hours is much too long. Mathilde interviews people, then seems to stumble upon clues as if by luck. A few times is okay, but after a while, everybody gets the idea. Undaunted, Jeunet goes on, pounding his point home.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 14 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for violence and sexuality.

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