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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Directors
Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Screenwriters
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Guillaume Laurant.
Running Time
133 minutes

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A Very Long Engagement
Another quality combo of French fantasist Jean-Pierre Jeunet and leading lady Audrey Tautou.


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Plot
Disbelieving that her fiancé has been court-martialled and sent to the certain death of no-man's-land, orphaned dreamer Mathilde (Tautou) determines to discover the truth.


Review
As the commercially viable face of French cinema, the ever-beaming Jean-Pierre Jeunet could easily be dismissed as a gimmick merchant, a bravura showman who never breaks the skin of his movies. There's no doubt his style is as tricksy as a tea-time magic show: frenetic camera moves, baroque interchanges of flashbacks and forwards, stories embedded within stories, and whimsy up the wazoo - not to mention a penchant for the steam-punk décor of Jules Verne. How his head must buzz with all the bells and whistles he can blare at his avid fans with each new fairy tale.

The frothy Amélie, the fantastic The City Of Lost Children, the murky satire of Delicatessen (let's forget Alien: Resurrection, his heavy dunk in the Hollywood pond) all swim with the vivid wonder of his imagination. With A Very Long Engagement, however, his strokes are far stronger and cut deeper. Not that he's pulled an entirely straight face. In classification terms alone, the film is hedging its bets as a war movie, a love story, a Rashomon-style memory game, an Agatha Christie-esque detective romp, a noir-ish revenge drama and a loamy comedy of French peasantry with an unfortunate tinge of the Stella Artois ads about its pastoral charm.

Yet, in the midst of his trademark brio, Jeunet invests this tall tale with a sharp reality. By the rain-washed opening credits' conclusion we've been introduced to the dark side - there's nothing fizzy about this brute vision of life and combat in the French trenches, in many ways as turbulent and destabilising as Saving Private Ryan's Ohama Beach. The French maestro courageously rubs his light romance up against unflinching warfare - and the jarring cuts from windswept pastoral visions, as gilded as a Monet, to the deranged clutter of a killing field strike straight at the heart. Tautou, still as slender as a pixie, is less spirited and inspired than in Amélie, having to lock her magical smile away in dogged frowns. Mathilde is headstrong, lamed by childhood polio, and prone to losing her rag, but determined to clutch at her love like a life raft. There's a wonderful recurring riff on how she tempts fate to reveal the truth, testing her hopes against absurd challenges (a dog spilling through a door, the time it takes for a car to pass), all of which, to a bet, return teasingly unanswered.

It is very long, but never dull, the mystery regularly spinning on its heel to veer off in a new direction. You half wonder whether the film can ever tie itself together again as it unveils yet more characters and subplots, all micro-detailed and often richly funny. In one heart-breaking sojourn, Jodie Foster takes on a fluent cameo, while elsewhere a Corsican whore launches her own parallel mission, murderously dispensing with French officers care of some cunning devices.

Some may not endure the story's willful whirligigging, the pace is blinding, the flutter of names and moustaches dreadfully confusing, but the emotional drive couldn't be plainer. You care for Mathilde and you yearn for the truth, whatever form it might take. And as shadowy as the journey becomes, Jeunet, the optimist, also shows us a world of light.


Verdict
Jeunet has ventured into darker, truer territory without abandoning the fabulous purring of his former films. Inventive and lyrical, A Very Long Engagement is a joyous contradiction in terms: a war-torn romantic comedy.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for A Very Long Engagement
Empire Star Rating

tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0344510/]http://www.imdb.co m/title/tt0344510/]Un Long Dimanche De Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement)udrey Tatou plays a young woman who`s fiancée goes off to fight in World War I. When the war is finished he doesn`t return home. She`s convinced that he`s still alive and goes on a search for prove of this and tries to find him. Tatou`s and Jeunet`s second collaboration after the immensely succesfull Amélie doesn`t live up to its expectations and t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:48, 14 August 2011 | Report This Post


Set towards the end of World War I, 5 French soldiers are betrayed by their superiors. The war ends and Mathilda is not convinced the love of her life died on the battle fields. The story continues on Mathilda's quest to find the truth so she can finally move on with her life. The determination and lengths to which this woman will go to finally brings her the truth. A touching and intriguing love story with many layers. The story is well narrated and the flashbacks to scenes of what reall... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by zedphelan at 19:58, 21 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Beautiful

L: SonnyDaze Perhaps even more enjoyable than Jeunet's other acclaimed film 'Amelie', A Very Long Engagement is strikingly beautiful, and is graced with a certain charming surreality that Jeunet brings to his films, in a similair way to Tim Burton. Oh, and Audrey Tatou is a film star to put most of Hollywood's leading ladies to shame. hat else could I add!? 100% agree. I loved Amelie, but A very long engagement actually manages to exceed Amelie!!! One of my most anticipated... More

Posted by CharlesBronson at 11:32, 17 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: A Very Long Engagement

No more love? ... More

Posted by Timmy_Brisby_05 at 19:55, 31 July 2009 | Report This Post


Beautiful

Perhaps even more enjoyable than Jeunet's other acclaimed film 'Amelie', A Very Long Engagement is strikingly beautiful, and is graced with a certain charming surreality that Jeunet brings to his films, in a similair way to Tim Burton. Oh, and Audrey Tatou is a film star to put most of Hollywood's leading ladies to shame. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SonnyDaze at 20:21, 30 July 2009 | Report This Post


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