Movie Review: A Very Long Engagement

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Jean Pierre Jeunetís new film is A Very Long Engagement. What could be better, said the director on a recent visit to Stockholm to promote the film: Warner Bros paid for it, he got to choose a French cast and crew, and got directorís cut. Jeunet became interested in the story written by Sebastian Japrisot set in WWI in France, called the Long War, about 10 years ago.

If you liked Amelie of Montmarte, Jeunetís last film, the enchanting lead from that film, Audrey Tautou is now in the countryside of Breton. Here she has been ravished by polio since childhood, and walks with a limp. Matilde has been befriended by Menache , a young boy from the village. That friendship grows into love and that love keeps the two together, long after the grown boy played by Gaspard Ulliel is claimed to have died in battle by the French military. Rather than accept this, Matilde goes on a search for him, tracking down three other men that supposedly died with him in the trenches of Somme for clues of his whereabouts. She is convinced he is alive, something she feels in her heart.

This is a film that has been nominated for two academy awards: cinematography and art direction, and it is apparent at once why! First the blue green colors of the battlefields and soldiers always beset by fog, is contrasted with the dark soil of Somme. This creates a surrealistic impression of the war where an assembly line of robots trudge on out of duty. Contrast this with 1920 Paris, the grand buildings of the city lining the huge boulevards created during Napoleonís reign by Baron Von Haussman. We see the many arcades and streets and of course the Eiffel Tower. And millions of tiny details, each scene, each shot arranged meticulously for the best light, the best lines, the best composition of each frame, with exquisite clothing and makeup.

There is a surprise for us too with a cameo by Jodie Foster, who attended a French speaking high school in Los Angeles. Therefore it should come as no surprise that she speaks the language impeccably in the few scenes she is in.

The contrast from the battlefield is presented perfectly, with many shots of the farm in Breton, with Matildeís good natured family gathered around her. Her uncle is played by the magnificent Dominique Pinon, the skinhead punk in the cult film DIVA, and the invalid on the crew from hell in Alien Resurrection , also by Jeunet. The different vistas the film explores makes for a rich tableau, an explosion of color and refinement. Had the film been released before October 1, A Very Long Engagement might well have been a strong contender for an Oscar as best foreign language film. It wonít be at Cannes this year either because it was made in the USA. Next week an interview with Jean Pierre Jeunet so stay tuned!

For Movie Magazine this Moira Sullivan, Stockholm SWEDEN

More Information:
A Very Long Engagement
France / USA - 2004