A Very Long Engagement review

:. Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
:. Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel
:. Running Time: 2:14
:. Year: 2004
:. Country: France


In A Very Long Engagement, Jean-Pierre Jeunet once again leads us into his pastel colored fantasy world, this time however, presenting us a war melodrama steering us away from the quirky madness of his first two films, and the nostalgic cuteness of the last. Audrey Tatou (aka. Amlie Poulain) stars as Mathilde, a beautiful yet handicapped young girl whose lover, Manech is swifted away by the winds of war only a short time after they begin to discover one another. It is years after The Great War, and the seemingly impossible hope of Mathilde to find once again her lost Manech is the impetus that sparks the intrigue of the movie, in which Mathilde is to become a detective hunting for clues of her lost lover.

The love story is only the first step, the excuse that is used to take us across the stories, memories, and retelling of the past in a typical Jeunet-like voyage in which circumstance coincidence and desire usurp possibility or destiny. Manech, like four other of his compatriots have been court-marshaled for self mutilation of their hands. These five men, whose lives become linked like beads on a string find themselves sharing a fate in the most fearful of trenches Bingo Crepescule. We discover through a deft spinning of the tale, and the search of Mathilde the stories of each of these desperate characters, memories overlapping with new discoveries, reenactments superimposed over the reading of letters, leading to a post-modernist 'unraveling' of the tale. As usual in Jeunet, les choses, or the objects (i.e. pocket watches, old photos, handwritten letters, children's' toys, a red hand-knitted glove) are used to rigger scenes of nostalgia or clues about the future. The 'reenactments', in what has become a staple of modern storytelling, are often themselves called into doubt by the narrator, a feminine voice which eerily echoes that of Mathilde, yet insists upon telling the story in the third person. Yet, even this objective denial of these retold events, these lies are shown to us, more from the interests of the act of showing, than of any slavish necessity to story continuity. Stimulated by these voices, narrators, objects, we are led through both worlds: the sepia-toned fields of pre- and post- war, and the icy-toned coldness of the immense and nightmarish battlefields and body-littered trenches of The Great War.

The hunt itself for the lost traces of Manech is constructed imbroglio-like, serving more to introduce us to the caricatured mustachioed characters of the time with their provincial accents, than to serve any feasible plot purpose. With the accents, characters, and most of all the color scheme, Jeunet manages to create a world uniquely his, a world not unlike Tim Burton's in which the fantasy, whether fairy-tale or heroic is primary, and all else comes second.

Although the film lacks the inane darkness of a Delicatessen, or the circus-magic of The City of Lost Children, (perhaps due to the continued absence of his collaborator, Caro) with this fourth full-length feature Jeunet succeeds in creating a charming film filtering the classic Hollywood war melodrama through wonderland cinematic lens of a still very French Jeunet.

  Yaron Dahan

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