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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.85%
Just Average: 8.54%
Pretty Crappy: 15.85%
Sucks: 1.22%

8 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Very Long Engagement, A
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by Jay Seaver

"A whimsical war story. Gak."
2 stars

I think I have the same ill-founded hatred for Audrey Tautou that regular film snobs have for the likes of Tom Cruise. I know it's pretty irrational, especially since we probably only get to see a fraction of her work in the US. But, on the other hand, if you consider that what foreign films we do get are generally top-tier... Anyway, all the complaints that people seem to throw at American stars seem to hold for her. Always playing the same sort of role, and not necessarily very well. And yet, people seem to go for it.

There's a solid story to A Very Long Engagement - a woman searches for her missing, reported dead fianc´┐Ż, only to encounter official cover-ups and other, darker forces with the same goal. And the flashbacks to the war are suitably intense and horrifying. Unfortunately, we get this story through the filter of Tautou's Mathilde. Her Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is one of five soldiers with a self-inflicted hand injury who was court-martialed and sent to the front to let the Germans take care of executing him. She, however, just knows in her gut that he can't be dead, so keeps trying to find him, although she gives herself many chances to back out ("if some random event behaves in one way, he's alive...").

Her way of going about it is far less entertaining than the way Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), another one of the soldiers' girlfriends, handles the people who condemned her man. This [former] prostitute takes direct action, while Mathilde sits around the farm with her uncle and aunt, waiting for word from the private investigator she hired. The PI (Ticky Holgado), gives her a discounted rate because his daughter has been lamed by polio the same way Mathilde was, and there's something repugnant about the way Mathilde willingly plays her hobble up, to the point of visiting her lawyer in a thoroughly unnecessary wheelchair. It's crass and doubly insulting because we're apparently supposed to look at it as cute, because Audrey Tautou is "cute" (and not cute-but-psychotic like in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not).

There are other cutesy bits that serve as an intrusion on the mystery/war stories, too, bits that seem like they would fit much better in Am´┐Żlie than in this movie. The little quirky bits, like the farting dog (and the rhyme Mathilde's aunt says afterward), the massage scene, the postman kicking up gravel. There's room for comic relief in a story like this, but this leaves the movie's supposed heroine looking flighty and foolish. It doesn't help that the film's narrator has a voice which sounds quite a bit like Tautou's, but keeps referring to her in the third person. It felt like an attempt to force the story into an inappropriate fairy-tale mood.

In many ways, it seems like co-writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has fallen into a common trap - he's trying to recreate the international acclaim and box-office success of Am´┐Żlie rather than make the movie that the subject matter demands. The movie's darker material would seem better served by the Jeunet who made Delicatessen or City of Lost Children, or even Alien: Resurrection. To be fair, that's what we get much of the time. It seems to me, though, that this could have been a much better movie had it focused on the more active, interesting Tina than the passive, placid Mathilde. And original-novel me no original-novels; I imagine Jeunet took some liberties anyway.

It's a shame that so much of the film is bad, because much is also good. The color palette is drab (a little heavy on the dark yellows), but it fits the wartime scenes. It also allows some seamless integration of archive footage, and shots that are made to look like archive footage (including a chilling shot of a character being led to the guillotine). There are also some flat-out beautiful shots; Jeunet has always had a great eye. There's also a pretty darn good mystery story with a war backdrop played out, even if the sleuth is silly.

There's been some squawking over this movie's origin, as the French courts have evidently ruled that it cannot compete in French film festivals as a French film, despite its French director directing a French cast in a movie set and shot in France and based upon a French novel by a French writer because an American movie company put up a lot of the money. I hope crime in France is sufficiently low that it makes sense that the courts have time for that, although I tend to wonder why you'd have laws governing film festivals in the first place. It does raise the question of how much influence Warner Brothers had over the movie; did they ask Jeunet to hew toward his greatest success?

Or maybe, as I said in the opening paragraph, my dislike of the movie's star is irrational enough to color my opinion of the movie generally, and this whole thing needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Even adjusting for that, I don't think the movie would climb much above average, though - this story is at its best when it's grim, and it's not grim enough.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11186&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/03/05 11:03:09
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User Comments

6/11/15 Paul This review is telling an artist what his art should be. Arrogant! And I love Kubrick! 5 stars
11/03/09 MP Bartley Lyrical and harrowing, if just a tad too dense and overdone. 4 stars
7/11/09 Jared Kreiner Jeunet's' best 5 stars
9/30/08 Annie G Beautifully filmed, but ultimately sadder than expected. 3 stars
6/18/08 gemma & kirstie a brilliant film that we cant seem to get enough of!!!!! definatly a 5 star!!!! 5 stars
3/01/08 Alisha Amazing, amazing, amazing. 5 stars
8/18/07 aliza its interesting 4 stars
3/12/06 Roderick Cromar Really great. Everything a film should be. Only tiny flaws. 5 stars
12/19/05 Nicole Good movie, but its hard to care about Mathilde's search...love story not devl early enough 4 stars
10/31/05 Christina OUrsler Very french, very existential....tuba, polio,war and love...mostly love. 5 stars
10/28/05 TPS worth it for the battlefield scenes alone but the rest is pretty good also 4 stars
10/27/05 Rosie everything you need in one film! 5 stars
9/23/05 Phil M. Aficionado Complicated and beautiful story full of vivid characters; slightly contrived in places, tho 4 stars
8/22/05 Taylor Fladgate Fantastic. Complicated plot, I had to watch it twice to catch the nuances. 5 stars
8/12/05 foxy familiar story line but Tautou makes it enjoyable 4 stars
8/03/05 Mark Albert The feel of Amelie, but deliciously dark and different! 5 stars
7/17/05 JFK great movie. Jean Pierre rules!!!! 5 stars
6/13/05 Helen Bradley Audrey Tautou disappointing, plot poor editing bad 2 stars
4/20/05 Dan Excellent cinematography and a compelling story 5 stars
2/24/05 ronnie surprising , deligthful movie 5 stars
2/16/05 John Cinematography masterpiece....... 5 stars
2/04/05 Veronica Serwin Absolutely phenomenal. 5 stars
1/15/05 jcjs fabulous, delightful surprize, great show 5 stars
1/12/05 nick2k wow...good stuff. nice to see jean-pierre attempt wwi. loved it! 5 stars
1/06/05 Green Gremlin Another masterful achievement from Jeunet. 5 stars
12/31/04 paul fantastic, beautiful 5 stars
12/28/04 T. Maj Does justice to a wonderful book 5 stars
12/27/04 John Bale Possibly the best antiwar film since Paths of Glory. Brilliant ! 5 stars
12/26/04 ajay I had a hard time with the French names/subtitles. I loved Amelie, so I'll see this again 4 stars
12/03/04 Luc Confirms a new way of making movies 5 stars
11/27/04 Eva masterful film making! 5 stars
11/25/04 Dianne A truly beautiful film with moments that will haunt/touch me forever. 5 stars
11/22/04 Vince One of the very best movies of the year. A must see. 5 stars
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  26-Nov-2004 (R)
  DVD: 12-Jul-2005



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