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A Very Long Engagement
A Very Long Engagement
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Chantal Neuwirth, Dominique Pinion, Jean Paul Rouve and Jodie Foster

This reunion of director Jean Pierre Jeunet and actress Audrey Tautou combines the whimsically colorful touch of their wonderful Amelie and the sweeping love and war elements found in Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient.

A Very Long Engagement (in French with English subtitles) has an un-chronological narrative and excellent visuals as Jeunet works strikingly well with lenser Bruno Delbonnel who filters the lighting with brownish hues. The dichotomy from a less sobering post World War I France and the stark realism of war on the western front is part of an evocative production with a rich, brooding score. The informative voice-over work also recalls what worked so well in Amelie.

Though Engagement will test some viewer’s patience because of an unhurried pace, the story proves involving because of how well Tautou (Dirty Pretty Things) is able to work under Jeunet’s sprawling mosaic that also is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Path of Glory.

The gamine like actress is Mathilde, a wistful, yet determined young woman who has a limp from childhood polio and is mostly confined to a wheelchair. Her farmer turned soldier lover, acted well mostly in flashback by Gaspard Ulliel, perhaps was killed in the horrors of trench warfare afer part of a group sent to “no-man’s land” after self-mutilation. Much of the movie, based on an acclaimed novel, has Mathilde conducting a search through information about his comrades in arms.

The pixie-ish Mathilde plays the tuba which is the only instrument that reflects a distress call. One hopes that Ulliel’s Manech will turn up, even if he was officially reported dead, there’s a fair amount of tension felt as the plucky orphaned heroine who lives with her eccentric aunt and uncle (Chantal Neuwirth, Dominique Pinion) does a lot of sorting and questioning among those connected with the exiled soldiers.

The Hollywood style lavish production does remarkably well with effects and editing from a country where larger budgets are hardly the case. The way the trench warfare is depicted along with sights like a wooden hand give a sense of emotions being felt in early 20th century life. Memorable supporting work comes from the likes of Jean Paul Rouve as an amusing bicycle courier and Jodie Foster (sporting fluent French) as a wife of one of the soldiers trying to escape the horrors of war. And Marion Cotillard (Big Fish) stands out as a beautiful, yet cold-blooded companion that Mathilde comes across in the branched out plot.

Still, if the key relationship between Mathilde and Manech loses its pull somewhat amid all the characters neatly charted in the film’s production notes, the “sadness rubbing off” on the viewer is diluted by the superstitiously endearing Tautou who photogenically is seamless with Jeunet’s breathtakingly potent imagery.

A Very Long Engagement

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