A 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

Reviewed by Adam Ford

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.