A Very Long Engagement
A Very Long Engagement (Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Or, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles. Jeunet hit it big in the States with the great Amelie. His name was first really heard in America after his two offbeat films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children came here, and then he was given the thankless job of trying to direct Alien: Resurrection. Much like David Fincher before him, who had to direct Alien3, he deserved better. This film is based on Sebastien Japrisot's novel. Japrisot died just last year (his name is an anagram for Jean-Baptiste Rossis).
Here's one of the best of the year, a completely rich filmgoing experience. It's a brutal war story, an epic love affair, and a satisfying investigation all rolled into one. Audrey Tautou, who served as Jeunet's heroine in Amelie, is an affianced woman named Mathilde who has heard the very worst about her lover, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), from a battle with the Germans in World War I. However, hope becomes the driving force behind pulling out all the stops to discover every scrap of truth available, from her own trips to certain places in France, to hiring a private investigator named Germain Pire (Ticky Holgado) to do even more searching. Each new person that Mathilde encounters tells some portion of the story--it's not quite the Rashomon model (later copied by Courage Under Fire and others) where it's simply one story being told from different perspectives. Each person has a different chronological view of the story. Most that Mathilde talks to believes the man to be dead, but this does not kill her resolve.
The story revolves around five men, including Manech, who have injured themselves in some way during combat, which if proven to be a purposeful act, is punishable by death in the French army. Each of these characters have their own stories, which further enhances the findings of the investigation. One man's story leads to a cameo appearance from Jodie Foster, who gets to show off that fluent French of hers. All of these side stories lead to other people who can help Mathilde, and more layers to the whole story. It's quite the ambitious film. One misstep and the movie could have crumbled.
This is a movie that deserves and demands a second viewing. Some films this year only ask for a second viewing, knowing that you might not like it the first time, but this is a movie that you'll love the first time, then want to watch a second time to see what you missed. It really is that engrossing of a film. It is just a tad bit long, going the route of ultra-suspense towards the pursuit of Mathilde's goal, but it's such a ticky-tack complaint that it can go ignored.
The 26-year-old Tautou is excellent, and once again draws the audience in with her sense of humor and wickedly attractive eyes, which she uses to tell her feelings more than any line of dialogue. Everyone else is good, too, playing in support. There are many, many funny supporting players--showing that despite the gravity of the situation, there's room for humor. This film is a classic.