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Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is a pretty young girl who was left crippled by polio, and is being raised by her uncle and aunt. Before World War I, she fell in love with a boy called Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), but he was sent to the war and killed. Three years later, Mathilde gets a mysterious letter with shocking news: Manech was not killed in action, but condemned to death by being sent unarmed to the front lines -- and miraculously, he might still be alive.
Mathilde is determined to find her lover -- dead or alive -- and learn what really happened on that day three years ago. So she puts out ads in the papers, gathers accounts, and hires a detective to follow the cold trail. And slowly the gaps in the stories emerge, giving Mathilde clues to whether Manech died... and where he might be now.
"A Very Long Engagement" (French title: "Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles") diddles a few details from the novel, but is faithful to it in the ways that matter -- the "MMM" inscriptions, the non-linear storytelling, the horrors of World War I. In some ways, it seems almost impossible to transfer onto film without creating a pretentious mess -- but it wasn't.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet proves that "Amelie" was no fluke, but this time he relies mostly on visual artistry, rather than in magical realism. He also reminds us, by displaying the French countryside along with flashbacks of the front lines, that war is stupid and wasteful. But it's not an obvious, slam-in-your-face reminder. Like the romance, it's delicate and wistful.Read more ›
The execution or judicial murder of troops in the First World War is not a theme which has been extensively developed in France. Stanley Kubrick's 1957 film, "Paths of Glory", explored the subject in detail, but was denied a French showing for nearly twenty years! The French response to 1914-18 has too often been to celebrate 'gloire' and extol the stoic virtues of the poilus who fought and were slaughtered at Verdun. National angst at executions has rarely been on the menu.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film, "A Very Long Engagement", makes prominent the responsibility of the French State for the deaths of exhausted, burned out, and scared Frenchmen. It is a central theme. For every man executed at the Front, there were women and families back home, praying for a reprieve, praying for a miracle.
Audrey Tautou plays a symbolic role ... or perhaps a role she has come to symbolise. Even the French media hailed the film as "Amelie goes to War!" Comparisons have refused to go away. Tautou has a childlike quality which the film exploits: her character, Mathilde, refuses to believe that her lover has died - with so many thousands missing, only the truly innocent would search for one lost soldier. But then, every missing man was important to someone. How many people lived out their lives in the hope that a husband or son or father or lover might still be alive, somewhere?
It's a love story, it's a war film, it's a detective roman ... with comedy and tragedy and drama aplenty. Jeunet portrays nostalgic images of France, trying to recapture a sense of the period.Read more ›
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