Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

A Very Long Engagment, or if you prefer, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancialles reunites Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet with that film's leading actress Audrey Tautou. Tautou plays Mathilde - a beautiful, young girl who was crippled by polio as a child and was brought up by her uncle and aunt in rural Brittany. She falls in love with a boy called Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) and he proposes to her, but Manech is then sent off to fight in World War I and is never heard of again. He's presumed to have been killed in battle but Mathilde doesn't give up on the hope that he may still be alive somewhere. In 1920, three years later, Mathilde then learns some shocking news from an ex-army Sergeant who is dying of Spanish Influenza: Manech wasn't killed in battle like everyone else assumed but was instead sentenced to die, unarmed, in No Man's Land with four other soldiers for self-mutilation. Manech may still be alive. Mathilde then begins a desperate search to try to find her fiance.

A Very Long Engagement is Jeunet and Tautou's follow-up to Amelie and its tone is generally darker and more bittersweet than that film; which isn't surprising when you consider that it's set during WWI. A Very Long Engagement has a wider scope than Amelie too. It's part moving romance, part war film and part mystery movie. It also has plenty of comedy, drama and tragedy thrown in.

The acting is superb in this movie and everyone acts so well that it seems almost harsh to single actors out. Audrey Tautou though is just as good in this movie as she was in Amelie and gives an excellent performance. Her character in this movie is quite similar to Amelie in that they both come across as sweet and childlike but Mathilde seems tougher and more self-confident. You will like her. Gaspard Ulliel is absolutely adorable and charming as Manech and is equally as good as Tautou. Marion Cotillard has a role in this movie too and is as excellent as always. Even Jodie Foster has a nice cameo. I can't speak French but the film reviews I've read from people who do all say that her French is faultless. The film is visually stunning too. The cinematography is excellent and we get some gorgeous shots of the French countryside. There's also some very nice CGI to recreate 1920s era Paris.
Audrey Tautou as Mathilde
Gaspard Ulliel as Manech
Marion Cotillard as Tina Lombardi
Jodie Foster as Elodie Gordes
I didn't realise it when I first watched this film but A Very Long Engagement is actually based on a novel of the same name by a French writer called Sebastien Japrisot. Reviews that I've read of the book say that there is more comedy in the movie and I especially enjoyed the quirky characters and the exchanges between Mathilde's uncle and the postman : ) Another thing that I found very interesting is that it deals with WWI when most movies these days tend to deal with WWII. The war scenes are sad and brutal. The film makes the point that war is tragic and horrible but it doesn't constantly bash you over the head with it.
A Very Long Engagement is an excellent film and proves that Amelie was no fluke. It's such a shame that it wasn't even nominated for Best Foreign Language Movie at the Oscars. I don't think this movie is quite as good as Amelie I must admit. I can't help wishing that Marion Cotillard had gotten a bit more to do and the film is a bit confusing on a first viewing as you try to follow the different characters and sub-plots. However, these are only small criticisms. The film is still brilliant and I love it.

Rating: 5/5

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