Film Reviews

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

By • Dec 17th, 2004 •

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Released by 2003 Productions and Warner Bros. Pictures.
Rated: R / Running time: 133 min

VIVA L’AMOUR

Watching A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT is like snuggling up with a wonderfully romantic novel on a cold winter’s night—and totally losing yourself in the warmth of its enchanting love story. Like any good read, you’ll hate to see it end.

This French/US co-production reunites the director and luminous star of 2001’s highly original Amélie, with Audrey Tautou reconfirming she’s the most endearing gamin to reach the screen since the days of the other Audrey (Hepburn).

Giving an inspiring performance as a wistful, ingenuous ingénue, Tatou plays a hopeful naïf who won’t give up the search for her fiancé, missing in action during World War I.

Plot:
Mathilde (Tautou) was 9 and crippled, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) was 10 when they first met on the coast of Brittany, and over time, their friendship blossomed into an idyllic match. Then came the war. They were young and so very much in love—just two simple farm kids from the French countryside who planned to marry once he got back from the front.

It was not to be. He doesn’t return. Instead, he’s listed as one of five French soldiers presumed killed under mysterious circumstances. Accused of purposely wounding themselves so they would be sent home, they’re court-martialed and dumped into a no-man’s land to meet almost certain death in a crossfire between German and Allied troops.

But Mathilde refuses to believe her fiancé had died. Besides, there were no witnesses. So, despite all reports to the contrary, and by dogged detective work that’s part intuition, part the power of love, she seeks out clues to prove otherwise.

The Bad News: Because of it’s non-linear construction with sequences going back and forth in time, the scenario is, at first, a bit maze-like.

The Good News: Any confusion is short-lived, and the magical realism of Sebastien Japrisot’s best-selling epic is ultimately rewarding.

The actors, many of whom appeared in Jeunet’s other films, all lend a note of intense credibility to their roles: from Gaspard Ulliel’s young, idealistic Manech, to Chantal Neuwirth and Dominique Pinon as Mathilde’s loving guardians, to all those cast as soldiers and investigators during Mathilde’s long search. They truly come alive onscreen: some are embittered, some victimized, but each in his way is traumatized by the brutality and senselessness of war. And as they battle their way from the visually disquieting scenes of the trenches, not a false note is struck.

One surprise in casting: that of Jodie Foster in a minor role as Elodie, one of the war widows. Here, she speaks perfect French—with not the slightest hint she was born in L.A. and graduated from Yale.

Bottom line:
Beautifully directed and acted, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT imparts an air of wonderment, and visually and emotionally grips you in the right places: your heart, soul and tear ducts.

Still, it’s Audrey Tautou who deserves the laurels. It’s her radiant, Oscar-worthy performance that gives the primary panache and pleasure to this glowing, heartwarming film.


Cast:
Audrey Tautou (Mathilde); Gaspard Ulliel (Manech); Jean-Pierre Becker (Lt. Esperanza); Jodie Foster (Elodie Gordes); Julie Depardieu (Véronique Passavant); Dominique Bettenfeld (Ange Bassignano); Clovis Cornillac (Benoit Notre Dame); Marion Cotillard (Tina Lombardi); Jean-Pierre Darrousin (Benjamin Gordes); Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Cmdr. Lavrouye); André Dussollier (Rovières).

Credits:
Executive Producer: Bill Gerber.
Dialogue: Guillaume Laurent; Casting: Pierre-Jacques Benichou; Dir. of Photography: Bruno Delbonnel, A.F.C.; Editor: Herve Schneid A.C.E.; Prod. Director: Jean-Marc Deschamps; Set Design: Aline Bonetto; Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine; Music: Angelo Badalamenti.

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