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A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

SYNOPSIS:
As World War I draws to an end in France, Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) gets word that her fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is one of five soldiers who wounded themselves to avoid the trenches; they have been court-martialled and pushed out into the no-man's land between the French and German armies to almost certain death. Unwilling to accept that her beloved Manech is lost to her forever, Mathilde embarks on an extraordinary journey to discover the fate of her lover. At each turn, she receives a different heartbreaking variation on how Manech must have spent those last days, those last moments. Still, she never gets discouraged.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A major accomplishment, A Very Long Engagement combines the gore of war and the romance of eternal love in a stylish, beautifully packaged film with exceptional production design and cinematography. The period - WW1 - is important both for the film's emotional resonances and the tone of the characters. But it's the story that matters most, along with its lesson in hope and faith. And love.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet adds his personal filmic style to the adaptation by the voice over narrative that takes us across the characters and their backstories, and much like in Amelie, there are morsels of droll humour and detail thrown in. The other major style element is the quaint device of split screening in the old fashioned, bleed style, where the second image hovers in the main frame without the harsh edges of a framed picture.

This is used to both inform us and as a device to link the action that is taking place in the centre of the scene and at its outer edge.

The cast is superb, with Audrey Tautou a resilient yet vulnerable young woman determined to follow her instinct, her gut feeling, that her young man is still alive. The entire emotional charge of the film rests on her belief, and the story telling manages to keep us guessing right to the end. But so much misery and pain are encountered along the way that we almost sag under the burden.

The horrors of WW1 are all too cruelly captured in a series of scenes that equal the intensity and terror of Saving Private Ryan. But the film also offers astonishing scenes of Paris of the era, thanks to digital magic. In many ways, the physicality of the settings are significant elements that make the film almost tangible in its authenticity.

Perhaps its one weakness, though, is the screenplay's complexity; the trail that Tautou's Mathilde follows is complicated by nicknames for characters of whom there are a few too many to keep track of, and the machinations of some of these add an element of confusion to the developments. But the resolution is clear and it's satisfying - a film whose elaborate scenario and deeply felt sentiments are worth digesting slowly as the end credits roll.

Review by Louise Keller:
A war drama, a mystery thriller and a love story, A Very Long Engagement is a cinematic and handsome film from French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This sweeping adaptation of Sébastien Japrisot's novel seduces visually and emotionally, with Audrey Tautou's enchanting Mathilde guiding us. The story, like the human heart, is complex, and Jeunet couples the sombre mood with a lively innocence, allowing humour and poetry to add its colours. Integral to the film's appeal is its wonderful production design, beautiful cinematography and a music score that is a barometer to our emotions.

Mathilde is a determined young woman who has never allowed her childhood polio from stopping her from doing anything. She keeps her sense of humour intact and uses her disability as a positive in her life. She even uses it as a tool, when looking for co-operation, arriving in a wheelchair to elicit sympathy. 'Miracles didn't only happen at Lourdes' is her matter-of-fact response when passers by watch as she gets out of her wheel chair, folding it as she walks away. Her dreams are kept alive by the very strength of the hope she nurtures within. She fabricates superstitions to reassure herself, promising 'If I reach the road before the car comes around the bend, Manech will come home to me.'

Lives are connected by circumstance, and through Mathilde's eyes, we slowly piece together what transpired on that fateful day in the frontline when the five soldiers resorted to dramatic means so they would be sent home. A French soldier wearing another's boots, a letter in code, dirty tricks, a whore intent to commit murder, the superstitions of a young woman in love. She relives the meeting between a nine year old girl with polio and a ten year old infatuated boy, at a lighthouse whose limitless views symbolise the completeness of their relationship as it blossoms into love.

Tautou is the epitome of grace as the determined Mathilde, who follows every lead with the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. With her child-like wonderment, we are haunted by her presence as she makes us care for her and her predicament. The entire cast is hand picked with some Jeunet regulars, and Jodie Foster makes a welcome addition in a supporting role.

Like a winding country road, A Very Long Engagement finds its conclusion leisurely and thoughtfully. The complexity of the plot and many characters at times confuses, but the resolution evolves naturally. There's beauty in the world as the camera follows Mathilde from the dark interior to the glorious sunshine-kissed gardens.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (MA)
(France, 2004)

Un long dimanche de fiançelles

CAST: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominique Pinon, Clovis Cornillac, Jerome Kircher, Chantal Neuwirth, Albert Dupontel, Denis Lavant, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marion Cottilard, Andre Dussolier, Ticky Holdago

PRODUCER: Angus Finney, Alain Bonetto

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

SCRIPT: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant (novel by Sebastien Japrisot)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bruno Delbonnel

EDITOR: Herve Schneid

MUSIC: Angelo Badalmenti

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Aline Bonetto

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2004






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