Very Long Engagement (15)
Written by Sébastien Japrisot and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Directed
by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screening at FACT and UGC from 21st January 2005
Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet once again casts Audrey
Tautou as his leading lady, in his first film since their quirky and whimsical
2001 success. Where the former was full of the joys of spring, A Very
Long Engagement is set against the background of First World War slaughter.
But that doesn't stop Jeunet being quirky and whimsical.
Convicted of self-mutilation, teenage soldier Manech (Gaspard Ulleil)
is sent over the top to be gunned down by the Germans. Despite the weight
of seemingly overwhelming evidence, his young fiancée Mathilde
(Tautou) refuses to give up hope, maintaining that she 'would know' if
he had died. On the basis of this impulse, she begins a long and complicated
search for a truth she can believe in, dredging through the muddy misery
of the trench known as 'Bingo-Crepuscule'.
On the minus side, the narrative constantly jumps around through time,
making the whodunwhat plot very difficult to follow. It is very difficult
to fully immerse yourself in the suffering of the central figures when
wondering if there is going to be another joke about the exhibitionist
postie or the farting dog. There are also far too many characters - over
seventy are credited for a film that is only just over two hours long.
But despite these problems, this study in love and war has much to recommend
it. For a start, those few characters that get more than a couple of minutes
on screen are incredibly likeable and brilliantly drawn. Bruno Delbonnel's
cinematography is staggeringly versatile - from hideously balletic battle
scenes one minute to sweeps over luxuriant French countryside the next.
The final scene alone drew floods of tears from the back row, and it’s
hard to imagine more moving closing lines than those spoken by Mathilde.
If only Jeunet had kept his love of the weird-for-the-sake-of-weird under
control, A Very Long Engagement would have been truly great.