Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Very Long Engagement

Un long dimanche de fiançailles; Drama, France/ USA, 2004; D: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, S: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominique Pinon, Chantal Neuwirth, André Dussollier, Ticky Holdago, Marion Cotillard, Jodie Foster, Tchéky Karyo

World War I. Five soldiers, convicted of self-mutilation in order to escape from the battlefield, are sentenced to death between the French and German trench lines. It seems all of them were killed, but Mathilde, the 20-year old girlfriend of one of the soldiers, Manech, believes he is still alive. Mathilde limps and lives with her adoptive parents peacefully, until she goes to Paris to hire a private detective to discover if Manech is alive or not. She also looks for documents and people connected with the event, like prostitute Tina Lombardi. Just as she loses every hope, the detective informs her that he found Manech alive and that he had amnesia when he was shot in the war, which is why he never informed anyone.

Even though "A Very Long Engagement", an adaptation of Sébastien Japrisot's novel with the same title, is filled with dazzling moments, it's somehow not as engaging as expected. Namely, it's definitely a very ambitious film with a complicated investigation story that cleverly flip-flops between Mathilde's segment and her fiance Manech whose story is uncertain, but the film is so crammed with everything that it's dozen subplots and endless wanderings become tiresome after a while, among others maybe because it lacks heart and real emotions. Among the film's virtues was definitely the pick of charming Audrey Tautou to play Mathilde, who managed to give her spark during her stiff situations, and especially during a few shrill moments (in one scene, Mathilde wakes up in her bed at night and spots her cat sitting in front of a crashed lamp which caused a small fire on the floor. She quickly pours water and extinguishes the fire, angrily looking at the cat, saying: "I knew you were a crook, but a pyroman too?!"). The film's second trump card was inspiring director Jean-Pierre Jeunet who knows how to make wonderful shot compositions: his visual style is so refined that he even makes a small spectacle out of the wind stroking the meadow or camera flying around the light tower. The authors went through great detail to relive that time period and even casted Jodie Foster in a small role, yet as a whole the film didn't manage to capture the right tone and sparkle in full light. Still, for all of it's enthusiasm, it should be appreciated more.


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