The term "fresh" to describe any new war film is almost beyond the point nowadays. Most war movies were primarily made for the bloodier and bigger battle sequences. Other war movies are about incorporated romances and longing, which mostly turn out to be bore-fest. But, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 2004 has given us a story that connects somewhere in the middle, combining the uncompromising bloody horror of war with the aftermath mystery of a girl just trying to find the boy she loves.
A Very Long Engagement from the director of Amelie, has the similar precious love at its center. But this movie is much darker compared to Amelie: It's about World War I, and it is filled with mud, blood, and misery. From the opening sequences of the voice-over narration, we know that we are in good hands and that this romantic saga will be something completely different from others in the genre.
PlotMathilde (Audrey Tatou) has been unlucky at life. When she was 3, her parents died in a accident. She contracted polio, few years later, and she walks with a heavy brace. Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), her only childhood friend, who grows up to become her only lover, provided her only joy. During the war,Manech, gets himself deliberately wounded in an attempt to get sent home to Mathilde, but is sent instead into no man's land between the French and German trenches to die with four other men. The four are sentenced to death because they are thought to have self-inflicted wounds.
Mathilde receives terrible news that her fiance is presumed dead. In search of more significant proof, she attempts to track down other soldiers and hires a private detective named Pire (Ticky Holgado), who advertises himself as peerless. Eyewitness accounts that none survived. But not one soldier actually saw Manech die, and this fuels Mathilde's unrealistic belief that her lover somehow escaped. She also discovers that she has some sort of counterpart: a Corsican prostitute named Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard) pursuing a parallel investigation for another of the five, except, in this case, the witnesses aren't talking, they're dying.
AnalysisAudrey Tatou as Mathilde has this ability to make an audience fall for her, and carry them through this very long engagement. Mathilde's yearning for Manech is shown like an ardent flame that is maintained in the face of innumerable disappointments, dead ends, and mistaken notions. As in all Jeunet's movies, there are some quirky characters that keep things interesting, like a reckless postman (Jean-Paul Rouve), the put-upon priest Milly (Michel Chalmeau), and a woman avenging the death of her lover.
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's visualization is almost unmatched in modern cinema. Both expressionistic and dreamlike, his images are like fresh oil paintings brimming with wet color and hyper-realistic foregrounds. With cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, Jeunet plays with colors, and give his images an almost "brown-and-white" look that recalls an old, graying photograph. There is a spectacular instance of wonderful cinematography early in the film that depicts a sunset from the top of a lighthouse, and the moving, captivating shots of the trenches.
Based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot, Jeunet mixes garish modernist horror and sentimental romance in right proportions. He dashes through the source material, summarizing and conflating, each and every detail. Jeunet points out the absurdity of war, and balances out by saying that "love conquers all." Though it is a war film it isn't endlessly bleak, and there are times when it is darkly funny. This is virtuoso film-making, telling a story full of surprises that aren’t mere plot twists but images or moments that you’ve never envisioned before and are impossible to let go of, once you watch it.
A Very Long Engagement is a film to savor and to take to heart. This unswerving course of true love leaves you feeling satisfied.