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8 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Very Long Engagement, A
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by Robert Flaxman

"Perhaps very long, but not engaging enough."
3 stars

Films usually benefit from being focused, but Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film Amélie succeeded largely because of its sprawling nature. Taking on what might normally be considered too many characters and providing details for pretty much all of them, the film was a triumph of sweetness and charm because of its expanded world, not in spite of it. Sadly, Jeunet’s latest, A Very Long Engagement, attempts a similar style but fails where its predecessor succeeded - the overabundance of characters and endless details make the film something of a mess, despite its numerous virtues.

Again writing with Amélie collaborator Guillaume Laurant, Jeunet adapts a Sébastian Japrisot novel about the search by Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) for her fiancé, who may or may not have been killed during World War One. While evidence suggests that he was, Mathilde has always stubbornly refused to believe it - now, three years after his supposed death, she begins a quest to find out what really happened to him.

Even without knowing how closely the film follows the novel, it can still be said that the film possesses the character of one that adapts its source material a bit too closely. Even with all the characters in Amélie, the film never became confusing, but A Very Long Engagement is downright baffling at times. Characters are seen both in a trench in 1917 and in 1920, and it becomes exceedingly difficult to tell every single one of them apart.

The film also seems to be straining to pack in as much story as possible, at the expense of the main characters - for all of the details offered on relatively insignificant military officers, we never seem to get to know Mathilde all that well. Details about her are offered to us, but we never seem to really know her as a character. This saps some of the romance from the film - as the lack of character depth makes it harder to sympathize with Mathilde, her quest seems less nobly romantic and more creepily obsessive.

The story certainly works at times. We are bombarded with information throughout that slowly clicks into place as the movie progresses, and so some scenes are utterly sublime in the way they render clarity upon a host of previous sequences. While this justifies some of the sprawl, the film’s failure ever to gain a significant focus makes plenty of the context feel even more excessive than it otherwise might.

It’s also a beautiful film to look at. Jeunet’s palette features mostly earthy colors - golds, browns, and greens - that bathes the 1920 scenes in the glow of the past and the war scenes in the murk of madness. Many shots are gorgeously composed as well, and the war scenes are well-staged if nothing else.

Jeunet has a message on the madness of war in mind to go along with the film’s romance. He depicts soldiers shooting themselves to get sent home and being court-martialed and executed for their efforts. In one comic and yet immensely poignant scene early in the film, grave-diggers explain to a soldier that they aren’t digging graves for those already dead, but rather getting a head start on the graves that will be filled by the casualties of a coming battle.

A Very Long Engagement plays both as a rumination on war’s craziness and as a depiction of the romance of hope, but the latter never quite works. It doesn’t feel as though Jeunet has invested enough into the romance to make it truly worth caring about, and the war scenes suffer because they are only a device for the advance of the romance’s story.

Jeunet is able to infuse plenty of the light humor that has become his trademark into the film, and it works far more often than not, but the same cannot be said of the magical coincidences - while they made Amélie seem beautiful and wondrous, here they feel more gimmicky and forced. Engagement’s overall lack of emotional resonance in its main plot is the undoing of the coincidences and of the film as a whole - that some of the subplots contain significantly more emotion than the supposedly truly romantic main plot says about all that needs to be said about how well the film works on its chosen level.

Jeunet is still a tremendously gifted filmmaker, and he has assembled a fine ensemble cast for this film just as he did with Amélie. The script they put themselves in service of, however, leaves something to be desired. Neither magical enough to match up to Amélie nor sober enough to avoid the comparison, A Very Long Engagement is a passable but unspectacular film hampered further by the inability to stack up to its predecessor. At 134 minutes it might be called very long, but it struggles at ever truly becoming engaging.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11186&reviewer=385
originally posted: 12/27/04 16:51:57
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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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