From Audrey Tatou and the director of "Amelie" comes "A Very Long Engagement," a unique romance-mystery-drama based around World War I. Considered too American by France, the film, which is spoken in French, filmed in France and is about French people, is, by most respects, a French film. And, considering the quality of the movie, I don't know why they would disown it.
"A Very Long Engagement" follows Mathilde (Tatou), a 20-year old woman who is seeking to learn the truth about the love of her life, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), who apparently died in combat in World War I. Sentenced to death for self mutilation in attempt to get out of fighting, Manech was sent into No Man's Land, but despite all the clues that point to his death, Mathilde still has hope that he is alive somewhere. She sets out on a complicated journey to uncover the mystery, but finds that the truth is more difficult to obtain than she first thought. Is Manech alive, or did he truly die in 1917?
"A Very Long Engagement" is much like "Amelie" meets "Saving Private Ryan." It isn't as good as either of those films, but it does have similar attributes to the popular French film - only with some gory war violence. Jeunet uses much of the same narration techniques as he did in "Amelie," introducing quirky characters and strange situations. There is humor to be found in the screenplay as well, but, of course, this movie isn't as funny as "Amelie." There is war violence and Jeunet throws in a fair amount of gore, but as serious as the underlying theme of the film is, it is still fairly lighthearted in its presentation. More than anything else, "A Very Long Engagement" is very complicated, as, over the course of its 135-minute running time, Jeanet presents lots of characters, all of whom have their own perspective on what happened on the battlefield. If you don't play close attention, you'll become lost in the mystery. Oh, and there's some woman running around murdering the officers who were involved with Manech's battle.
The movie has a good screenplay, great acting and very impressive visuals. Every dollar of the $55 million budget was put to effect here, which is probably why French officials deemed it too American. Of course, Jodie Foster also has a decent-sized role in the film. Anyway, the movie is beautiful to look at as Jeunet has recreated WWI-era France; both the sets and special effects are seamless.
It is not without its flaws, however. The movie is overly complicated at times and a bit difficult to follow; a few of the subplots are perhaps added solely for the purpose of having additional subplots. More than anything else, "A Very Long Engagement" does begin to feel... well, long. Some clever editing could have eliminated at least a few minutes, if not twenty, to make it go a tad faster. Still, with the constantly changing scenarios and intriguing mystery, the movie does move at a very fast pace for what is essentially a romantic war drama.
"A Very Long Engagement" has a fun mystery, a compelling love story and moving war drama all thrown into one. The end result is an impressive but not especially powerful film that deserves recognition for what it is but could still have been something more. The film is unique, and for that it should be commended, but its odd synergy of genres doesn't always work cohesively.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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