A Very Long Engagement
2.5/5Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet
scr Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
with Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jodie Foster, Marion Cotillard, Dominique Pinon, Chantal Neuwirth, Jerome Kircher, Albert Dupontel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Ticky Holgado, Julie Depardieu, Tcheky Karyo
release France 27.Oct.04, US 26.Nov.04, UK 21.Jan.05
04/France 2h14

Read it in a letter: Tatou and Pinon

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Jeunet reunites with Amelie star Tatou for another lively, stylish movie, this time based on a bestselling novel. But his choppy, cheeky filmmaking style simply isn't suited to this remarkable wartime tale about the tenacity of love.

It's 1920 and Mathilde (Tatou) is a young woman who can't accept the news that her beloved fiance Manech (Ulliel) was killed in battle. Her search for the truth is intercut with flashbacks of Manech enduring horror and confusion in the muddy trenches of the Somme. As the plot thickens, we meet all kinds of people whose lives are intertwined by the war, from a murderous prostitute (Cotillard) to a woman (Foster) who goes to desperate measures to bring her husband home from the front line.

The screenwriters seem afraid to lose even one scene or character from the novel--this is one of the busiest films in memory, crammed with people, subplots and asides, energetically and abruptly intercut. It looks fantastic, and features Jeunet's trademark comical tone and throwaway moments. And the battle sequences are jaw-dropping (the scene involving a zeppelin in a makeshift hospital is outrageous!). The performances are good while they last--each actor brings a sense of rawness to their role, even if no one (not even Tatou) is given a scene long enough to register the emotion. Foster is the only one skilled enough to grab our hearts within seconds, but there's not enough of her.

We want to live this experience with Mathilde or Manech, but we're constantly yanked out of their stories to hear a clever tale about someone around them. These details fill in the WWI setting beautifully, but they leave the central narrative oddly uninvolving. This is a real pity, since it's so astonishingly well-filmed--sumptuous and lush, with an undercurrent of black comedy that keeps it from being over-serious. But in the end we're left with just a sweet-sad series of stories. In refusing to streamline the book into a proper movie, the filmmakers never let us get involved.

cert 15 themes, violence, language, sexuality 2.Nov.04

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© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall