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54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very long
Sure, the name is an open target for dumb jokes. But Sébastien Japrisot's haunting romance "A Very Long Engagement" translates well onto the big screen, with a bit of help from "Amelie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the wonderful Audrey Tautou.
Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is a pretty young girl who was left crippled by polio, and is being raised by her uncle...
Published on 1 Mar 2006 by E. A Solinas

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice escape
I would say "A Very Long Engagmenet" is nothing much but a good film. Some called it a classic but it is far from that. It mainly a testimonial to love - the belief that someone is still alive and the will to find that someone even if it was from the jaws of death. I guess to resume it one can certainly say when there is a WILL there is a WAY.

Coming to movie -...
Published on 30 Aug 2006 by Dharma Rai


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54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very long, 1 Mar 2006
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Sure, the name is an open target for dumb jokes. But Sébastien Japrisot's haunting romance "A Very Long Engagement" translates well onto the big screen, with a bit of help from "Amelie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the wonderful Audrey Tautou.
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.
The only problem with "A Very Long Engagement" is the "long" part -- it's truly exquisite, but it does drag a bit. Since it can be summed up as "girl searches for her seemingly dead lover," there are only a few twists along the way. But the beautiful visuals may make up for that in part. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is particularly striking, tinted in sepia or black and white. The entire movie has the feeling of an old photograph brought to life.
The love between Manech and Mathilde is not a grand passion, but it is a very real love -- it's not implausible to believe that two such people might have existed. Tautou is sweetly elfin as Mathilde, creating a likable heroine that it's impossible not to root for. Ulliel gives an equally good performance as the boyish, naive Manech, a perfect match for Mathilde.
"A Very Long Engagement" is a truly beautiful follow-up to the magical "Amelie" -- a war story, a love story, and a mystery all in one. Enchanting.
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160 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than Amelie goes to War!, 21 Feb 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Five soldiers deliberately injure themselves to escape the trenches. All five are sentenced to death - not by firing squad, but by the simple expedient of being driven out into no-man's-land, there to be killed by German fire.
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. Mathilde's country cottage is all pastoral tranquillity. The trenches are muddy, gory, and loud with violence ... and will rapidly be filled in and restored to meadowland once the war is over, as if the nation can't wait to forget.
Jeunet shoots the film in faux sepia, giving it that contemporary feel, as if he has recorded the very years after the end of war. He departs, somewhat, from Sebastien Japrisot's novel - which he has described as having 'Ameliesque' qualities. Mathilde could be Amelie's grandmother - both films rely on the heroine's dynamic naiveté.
Sentimental in places, cute, quirky, romantic, with episodes of visual poetry, it's hard to describe "A Very Long Engagement" as an anti-war film. It certainly portrays the horrors in grim detail, but it is a portrayal which is somewhat neutered. Perhaps that is inevitable. It is seen from the point-of-view of Mathilde, so some of the images would be sanitised. And the underlying emotion is one of hope, of refusal to give up hope.
Jeunet does make the film more comedic than the book. Perhaps he felt he had to relieve the tension. Perhaps he was exploiting the talents of a wonderful ensemble of actors, for the civilian characters are certainly allowed to indulge in slapstick humour.
Jodie Foster gives a convincing performance as a French mother, trying to get pregnant so her husband will be sent home. She has a pretty much faultless French accent. Her role, meanwhile contrasts with that of Tautou's. Mathilde represents a gentler, more innocent sexuality and femininity. Foster gets quite wanton in her role, while the other major female character, Tina Lombardi, is a whore who parallels Mathilde's search for her missing man ... but with more deadly intent.
Mathilde remains frail, vulnerable - she wears a leg iron in the film, having succumbed to polio as a child. In the book, she is confined to a wheelchair, but uses her parent's riches and the family servants to overcome that handicap. Tautou only uses a wheelchair for occasional effect - to manipulate a couple of men. Otherwise, the leg iron becomes symbolic of her struggle against adversity, her indomitability. Sexually coy, she's the girl back home, the daughter you treasure, the iconic image of French femininity ... devoted, loving, faithful, the young girl who will grow to womanhood and motherhood and raise a nation. It's Joan of Arc, it's Marianne.
So, is "A Very Long Engagement" the exposure of a national wound, the pricking of the national conscience, the first shot in an attempt to restore the good names of all those Frenchmen who were butchered by their own side? Hardly. But it does deliver an Ameliesque blow - na´ve, optimistic, tolerant, understanding. Maybe that's a start. Meantime, it's a very fine film ... and Tautou and Jeunet are apparently already talking about the next one they'll make together.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good film, not quite great, 23 April 2007
By 
MarkE (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
I bought this when someone recomended it to me after I spoke to them about Amelie, and I'm grateful for the recomendation. Having to watch with one eye on the subtitles and only one on the action made it difficult to follow at times, but it does reward repeated viewings (and I should work on improving my French). The ending is just ambiguous enough not to fall into cliche.

My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that I felt the somewhat surreal quirkiness that gave Amelie its charm was not always appropriate for the darker subject of this film, hence only four stars.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb DVD which offers superb extras, 14 Jun 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
As a supplementary to my review of the film, it's only fair to offer a few words on the quality of the video release and, in particular, the extras provided. Picture and audio quality are excellent throughout, the subtitles legible and easy to follow. The film, however, is released in so many countries it can be quite fiddly choosing the right option first time round. But that's a minor quibble.
The extras are superb. Many DVD's offer extras which barely warrant a look. Here, you have extras which you can truly enjoy. Jeunet delivers a commentary on the film which is highly instructive. He introduces the players, the technical staff, and offers a scene by scene explanation of influences, intentions, in-jokes, options he'd considered. It's a fascinating insight into the mind of a cinematographer.
There are also a number of superb little documentaries on the making of the film and the efforts which go into specific scenes and locations. For anyone considering a career in the cinema, or for anyone simply interested in the technical side of it, these are highly entertaining and instructive analyses of how to make a movie - from storyboard to final edit. It's amusing, it's educational, and it is seriously good entertainment in its own right.
This is a first class film, but the DVD extras offer superb value for money - both film and extras are highly polished productions, and you will watch both again and again.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice escape, 30 Aug 2006
I would say "A Very Long Engagmenet" is nothing much but a good film. Some called it a classic but it is far from that. It mainly a testimonial to love - the belief that someone is still alive and the will to find that someone even if it was from the jaws of death. I guess to resume it one can certainly say when there is a WILL there is a WAY.

Coming to movie - it is a very beautiful tale of love set in the period of the war. Beautiful sceneries and the acting is flawless as well as the direction. But the best thing is the bonus of the director's cut on why he did this scene and what came in his mind about doing this particular scene. The long edition is a must for everybody who likes french films BUT for a classic look for "Le Grand Chemin".
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My film of 2004, 4 July 2007
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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I rarely give five stars, but I feel that this film deserves it for a number of reasons.

It is both a fantastic spectacle, and at the same time very moving. In essence it is a love story set against the background of trench warfare on the western front in 1917. After the war, Matilda (played by the beautiful Audrey Tautou), a young woman from rural Brittany seeks to prove that her lover Manech (played by the equally beautiful Gaspard Ulliel) is not dead. Ulliel is a superb actor, who I first noticed when he seduced/was seduced by Charlotte Rampling in the comedy "Summer Things". His naive charm in this film moved this reviewer to tears.

Other reviewers have commented on how the first viewings can be confusing as you try to juggle the lives and subsequent histories of Ulliel's companions in the trench to find out if and how he survived. In this respect the central filling of this film's sandwich is not unlike an Agatha Christie murder mystery. But the beauty of this film is that repeated viewings enhance the experience, for it is shot in a beautiful autumn shimmer, with marvellous views of the Breton countryside and seascapes. The recreation of 1920s Parisian landmarks is a triumph of artistry and just goes to show how CGI can now enhance film.

One word about the editions. I would recommend the two-disc special edition. The extras are definitely worth it, showing how clever the production team has been in creating the brilliant effects both on the battlefield and off.

Some have complained about the apparent frivolousness of an Amelie-approach to World War One. Yes, Jean Pierre Jeunet does seem to have a signature in this film that mirrors his earlier work on Amelie, in particular the intorduction of trivial and yet interesting characteristics of his players, and the often hyperactive camera work, where the camera is never restful for long. But on balance I think the criticism is unfair. The film clearly shows the harrowing ordeal of life in the trenches and the injustices that were endured by the troops. The behind-the-scenes documentary clearly demonstrates the strenuous efforts that were made to portray the experiences in as realistic a light as possible. And it is ultimately Ulliel's experiences as shown in the film that makes the story all the more moving, not less.

I work in an arts cinema and see well over one hundred films there a year: this was my film of 2004.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Woman after the war, 1 April 2006
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
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A Very Long Engagement does a surprisingly deft job of balancing the absurdities and horrors of war with the absurdities of everyday life and the tenuous nature of hope and history, both ever changing and prey to the unbalancing influence of the smallest detail. More than most, this is really a film about the enduring pains of war that linger long after the last shots are fired and the battlefields are grown over as Mathilde's journey for her lost love goes from hospitals to widows to cripples to the thousands of official forms that once meant life or death. It's here that the film's lavish budget is really felt, allowing the story to span a wounded country eager to forget but unable to, as well as recreating the front lines. The reconstruction of the trench scenes is similarly impressive, although, as in Jasprisot's novel, the attitude of the poilous is much more sympathetic than it would have been in reality (deserters and self-inflicted wound cases were widely hated by soldiers at the front, who generally felt they should take their chances alongside them).
Its use of narration pays dividends, establishing that each of the five condemned man has a life and people that care about them. It's still done with Jeunet's characteristic quirkiness and black visual humor, but that's all too the good. And while there are some similarities, Tatou is not exactly Amelie here, all-too-ready to dismiss a helpful source as a slut in her own small-minded determination. The little games she plays with fate might seem whimsical, but she loses as many as she wins. Even the ending that proved so unacceptable for US audiences by opting for neither an obviously happy/unhappy ever after ending is just right, leaving its characters in limbo but not without hope.
A final touch of absurdity is added by Jeunot's audio commentary, where he complains over the end credits that despite spending more money by filming in France with French cast and crew entirely in the French language, the film was met with astonishing hostility by the French film industry which immediately declared it a foreign film and moved that it be forced to repay it's small government subsidy and be ruled ineligible for all French awards. I guess now he knows how George Stevens felt after being persuaded to shoot The Greatest Story Ever Told with a US crew in Monument Valley instead of cheaper foreign shores now only to be ridiculed and abused by the industry for his troubles... In filmmaking, like war, nothing really changes.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Fantastic, 29 Nov 2005
By A Customer
My wife and I have completely different film tastes. When she rented this I was not especially looking forward to it. How wrong can you be!! This is a truly fantastic film with so much grit, bathos,emotion and comedy. It transposes the real darkness of no-man's-land with the comic exchanges between the main character's brother and the postman. Jodie Foster's command of French is stunning. I could not work out if it was her at first. This film is up there with Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources - a real masterpiece.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Never let go, 22 April 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Very Long Engagement - 1 Disc Edition [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Sure, the name is an open target for dumb jokes. But Sébastien Japrisot's haunting romance "A Very Long Engagement" translates well onto the big screen, with a bit of help from "Amelie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the wonderful Audrey Tautou.

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 Fianšailles") 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.

The only problem with "A Very Long Engagement" is the "long" part -- it's truly exquisite, but it does drag a bit. Since it can be summed up as "girl searches for her seemingly dead lover," there are only a few twists along the way. But the beautiful visuals may make up for that in part. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is particularly striking, tinted in sepia or black and white. The entire movie has the feeling of an old photograph brought to life.

The love between Manech and Mathilde is not a grand passion, but it is a very real love -- it's not implausible to believe that two such people might have existed. Tautou is sweetly elfin as Mathilde, creating a likable heroine that it's impossible not to root for. Ulliel gives an equally good performance as the boyish, naive Manech, a perfect match for Mathilde.

"A Very Long Engagement" is a truly beautiful follow-up to the magical "Amelie" -- a war story, a love story, and a mystery all in one. Enchanting.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing, 27 Dec 2005
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
My understanding is that France declined to submit A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT for Oscar consideration as 2004's Best Foreign Film. I can't imagine why.

War is not glorious. Especially if you're Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), a young French soldier convicted by a military court, along with four others, of committing self-mutilation with the intent of escaping service in the front lines of World War I. The punishment is grotesque. Rather than death by firing squad, the five are forced over the top of the most forward trench and into the No Man's Land between the French and German positions - there to die by whatever bullet, mortar shell, or bomb strikes them down. The subsequent deaths of all five are attested to. Letters are sent to surviving family members by the French authorities saying their boys died in battle. This was in 1917.

Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) was Manech's fiancée when he marched off to war. She's also crippled in one leg after having been afflicted with polio at a very young age. In 1920, she's contacted by a dying survivor of the war, ex-Sergeant Esperanza (Jean-Pierre Becker), who'd been in charge of the provost detail assigned to escort the five condemned men to the front trench, as well as act as carrier of the last missive each was permitted to write home. He tells Mathilde of their bizarre fate, and gives her their last letters, which he's kept since the war's end. Using these and the veteran's story to provide clues, Mathilde embarks on a lengthy search for the truth behind Manech's death with the help of a private investigator (Ticky Holgado). Interviewing friends, family members, and lovers of Marech's four condemned companions, as well as other soldiers present in the trench, Mathilde needs to answer the question, "Is Manech truly dead?" She has no doubts; he's alive. But, the evidence is elusive and inconsistent.

As crafted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT is a hypnotic tale of mystery, official cover-ups, lies, misperceptions, secrets, coincidence, tenuous clues, guilt, innocence, honor, and, ultimately, love. Jeunet has created a masterpiece of special FX, lighting, unusual camera angles, split screen images, breathtaking panoramas, and visual asides. And then there are the entrancing depths of Audrey Tatou's brown eyes, in which I could happily lose myself forever. There's not been the likes of this young actress since Audrey Hepburn.

Though not advertised as such, this film is a gut wrenching depiction of World War I trench warfare. It's perhaps the best I've ever seen, especially when shown in contrast to gentle Mathilde's quest through post-war Paris and the luminous French countryside.

Astute and sardonic Mathilde, perhaps because of her affliction, is a take-no-prisoners dynamo of perseverance. No obstacle is too great that it can't be overcome. In the end, she finds ... Truth. And, if you see A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, you'll experience amazement, delight, and tears. For me, it's 2004's Best Foreign Film no matter what the Academy voted.
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A Very Long Engagement - 1 Disc Edition [DVD] [2004]
A Very Long Engagement - 1 Disc Edition [DVD] [2004] by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (DVD - 2006)
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