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Worth A Look: 15.85%
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8 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Very Long Engagement, A
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by John Rice

"A miraculous, epic fantasy"
5 stars

Once every few years a film comes along which has the patience and subtlety to sneak into the subconscious of the viewer, without quite making its effect known until it is over and the final credits start rolling. For some reason, those films almost always seem to not be American ones. That is not a feeble bit of Hollywood bashing, because I am quite a fan of American films and am fully aware that not all American films come from Hollywood. It is merely an observation, that even the finest current American films rarely have the patience to reach their conclusion in any other way than by doing it as fast as possible. It is films such as the fabulous 1989 Italian classic Cinema Paradiso or the 2002 Pedro Almodovar film Talk to Her which are willing to take as much time as necessary, telling a relatively simple story in such a way as to keep the viewer essentially unaware of how involved they have become, until that final scene, when everything comes together in a wave of awareness that makes the time needed to get there more than worth it. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (Amelie) latest, A Very Long Engagement, is just that type of film.

Does it hurt when you walk?

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is most well known by American audiences for his 2001 film Amélie, which starred French actress Audrey Tautou, who returns as the main character once again. Here, Tautou plays Mathilde, a 20 year old woman who's fiancée, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) was sent off to fight in WWI three years earlier and is reported to have been executed for intentionally injuring himself. Mathilde insists that if Manech were actually dead, she would have known it before receiving notice from the military, and begins the long search for what actually happened, as well as Manech's whereabouts.

During her search, Mathilde comes into possession of a box filled with various items, each belonging to someone involved with Manech's time in the military. It is an interesting parallel to Amelie, in which Tautou played a character seeking out the owners of several items in a box she found in her apartment. As the owner of each item is located, another bit of the puzzle is put in place and Mathilde learns more of what actually happened to Manech, while reliving her childhood memories of him.

The film begins with the story of how Manech, as well as four other soldiers, are sentenced to death for either intentionally or accidentally injuring themselves. Many films have addressed the absurdity of war and A Very Long Engagement takes a slightly different and ultimately more effective approach, with the story of five soldiers being sentenced to death for self injury, rather than fulfilling their objective of killing others. It is more than a side issue, since a great deal of the film is taken up by war scenes as more and more is revealed about the men's situations. These scenes are occasionally graphic without ever being excessive or gratuitous.

Like all Jeunet films, A Very Long Engagement exists in an almost fantasy world. These are very much like real people living at a historically accurate point in time, but they are shown in a way that is at least a bit otherworldly. It is something like a Norman Rockwell painting brought to life with a touch of Salvador Dali thrown in for good measure. The camera often moves in on the face of one character in an expressive and crisp shot, which is also just outside reality. The characters, particularly Mathilde, have a Shakespearean habit of acknowledging the audience at various moments, usually with nothing more than a look. All of these are typical Jeunet traits, dating back at least as far as his oddball cult classic Delicatessen. Along with American director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) Jeunet is certainly one of the most visually distinctive directors working today.

The spirit of Audrey lives...
Audrey Tautou is still not widely known outside her native France, though she enjoys a great deal of celebrity there. This relative anonymity will probably not last, considering her unusual and rather stunning, understated beauty, remarkable skill of facial expression and a more than passing resemblance, both in form and style, to another famous Audrey, as in Hepburn. I can think of no American actress, and probably only one or two actresses in the world, at most, who can carry an entire movie as effectively and pleasantly as Tautou, but none of them could do it as well with so little dialog. She is the style of movie star who is seen quite rarely. Yes, she does tend to keep playhing similar characters, but so does Robert DeNiro, and I don't hear many complaints about him. When someone does something this well, they should go with it.

This review originally appeared on Slacker-Reviews.com.

A Very Long Engagement is a film for the patient. It requires effort and the willingness to let it move at its own pace. The narrative is somewhat complex and evolves more like an epic romantic poem than a typical movie. There are a great number of characters, and keeping them straight can be difficult, particularly while dealing with subtitles and what is often quite a bit of dialog. Still, the effort required is handsomely rewarded. The visuals are rich and surreal. The story is deep with meaning and imagery and the humor is wonderfully off-beat. This is one of those true, rare joys in film.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11186&reviewer=373
originally posted: 01/12/06 22:10:33
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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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