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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 February 2007
At first I thought I wouldn't like the film as the beginning is very bleak and violent with a long scene depicting the trenches in the First World War: it reminded me of the opening sequence of the film "Saving Private Ryan". The number of characters introduced during the opening sequences makes the story a bit complicated as one tries to remember who is who as they reappear later in the film. However, as the story unfolded I got more engrossed as to how the film would end. It's a high budget film with lots of impressive scenes, not least the war sequences, but also the streets of Paris in the 1920s full of authentic vehicles and lots of people. A cameo performance to look out for is Jodie Foster apparently speaking impeccable French!

Overall a moving story, excellently acted.
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on 14 July 2005
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 - naïve, 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.
As a supplementary to my review of the film, it's only fair to offer a few words on the quality of the DVD 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.
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on 20 March 2015
The film is filled with totems and talismans, mysterious rituals and secret codes. In a world gone mad, which is what the Great War did to the mind of the world, this is how some survived.

Mathilde loves Manech. M&M is what the lovers think and write and carve into trees, their monogram of love. Theirs is a wild, delirious, dreamy love, the love of innocent daydreams enacted, less sexual than spiritual. She limps, a victim of childhood polio; he's slow mentally, the mind transparent, naïve, pure. They are eternal children.

In childhood they noticed one another in the village, outsiders attracted to the otherness of the other. He wondered at her limp and if it hurt her when she walked. She smiled at his tender regard, his guileless purity and goodness.

The mighty lighthouse on the shore was their retreat, their secret world. They went to it eagerly and laughed along the way. Manech carried Mathilde on his back up the winding staircase to the top. They played there, spread their arms like wings, shouted into the wind, laid on their backs, looked up at the clouds and sea birds, then later at the moon and stars. They first learned to kiss there, then years later how to make love in that place in the sky. It was their sanctuary and protection, their paradise on Earth.

They were damaged and even protected by that damage before the war came. The war in a sense could not touch and hurt them. They clung to their love. It had a life of its own: strong, invisible, everywhere. They could be separated but were never alone. Love for Manech in the trenches was the mantra he recited to himself over and over again: "Manech loves Mathilde and Mathilde loves Manech." He shouted these words at the guns and grenades and they became his shield. For Mathilde on the Breton farm with her aunt and uncle and all the animals it was ritual and memory, keepsakes and secret codes that kept Manech alive and safe. If she loved him enough, she said, this love would protect him.

She was daft, simple minded. Everyone thought so. They looked at her with pity. Worry and wonder and longing had made her soft in the head. When the war ended and Manech did not come home she kept her rhythm going: letters written to all who knew him in battle; research and interviews; a mournful tuba she played at the lighthouse in her solitude, its low bass notes calling him home like a wayward albatross. If she just kept at it, all the little acts of ritual and faith and remembrance would break the spell of loss and separation.

The film is a fairy tale, a parable of hope. It says love is all we have to keep our hearts beating, to keep our minds from tipping over. Love is the thing the world made us for, which is why we came into it. If it lets us down, if it destroys our hopes, it takes life from us.

Mathilde in her mystical way never lost hope. Not even a sad war that murdered millions was stronger than it. In the end Mathilde won, war lost. Faith and hope triumphed over hatred and cruelty.

A letter comes and she finds her Menech, and when she does she weeps and so do you.
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VINE VOICEon 28 August 2008
This movie bears the unmistakably imprint of a Jeunet, even if the territory is somewhat different to his other works. The warm, yellowish tint on the glorious cinematography, the stylised images accompanying the sharp narrative at regular intervals, the presence of many members of the Jeunet repertory company (Dominique Pinon, Urbain Cancelier, Ticky Holgado and of course the mesmerising Audrey Tatou, to name but a few), supplemented by a fine cast including Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Jodie Foster. His quirky style is not to everybody's taste, though the charm of Amelie won over the hearts of millions.

This is actually a detective thriller set against the first world war. Like many thrillers, the viewer needs to concentrate to follow the importance of minor plot details. Here, the subtitles are helpful (and unlike the other reviewer, I need and appreciate the English for hard of hearing subtitles!)

This attention to detail is indicative of the values of the whole film. The scenarios, particularly post-1918 Paris are visualised and recreated beautifully. Battlefield scenes are also hugely realistic, impressively so and far more than other movies featuring trench warfare. You are conscious throughout the lavish set design that this is a big budget movie that underperformed at the box office yet succeeds in almost every area that matters.

I've given 4 stars primarily because the pudding is a bit too rich, and on occasion detracts from what is essentially a simple story. Perhaps it needs more pace and more effective racking up of the tension towards the denouement, though I promise you will enjoy a sumptuous journey with the film as it stands. Jeunet is and always will be a favourite director of mine because he has more invention and imagination than almost any other mainstream director - and long may it last!
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on 14 October 2005
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 - naïve, 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.
As a supplementary to my review of the film, it's only fair to offer a few words on the quality of the DVD 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.
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on 8 July 2007
Though this film is from the creator of Amelie (another wonderful film) and stars the same lead actress, its has a very different atmosphere, though the style is distinctly Jeunet. It is filmed poetically, and should be appreciated for the all round excellence of acting, plot and vision. It also illustrates the pains and sacrifices of war, and is a tear-jerker in the most unexpected moments. As with Amelie, each character has their own story to be told(including the house hold dog) which enriches the film's quality. A must see for anyone with a love of films which go beyond the conventional.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 November 2014
A lighthouse, way out on the rocks near a French coastal town in Brittany, is where young Manach and Mathilde play as children, then later do rather more than play as young lovers. Of course, a lighthouse is also a place from where one looks out, an ever-lit beacon of salvation.
Then, in 1919, Manach is conscripted into the First World War, where await the horrors of the Somme...
Jean-Pierre Jeunet has made a close to flawless film - though, as part of the valuable extras, in the Director's Commentary Jeunet is, touchingly, the first to regret one or two shots he thinks are perhaps less than perfect.
Audrey Tautou, in a role that could have been written with her in mind, is a joy to watch as Mathilde, her face a secret world of hope, grief, pain and longing, while those around her - Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon and Chantal Neuwirth both superb as her uncle and aunt for example, with whom she lives in their cottage - bustle about and try to buoy up the bereft possible widow.
There are so many strands to this astonishing film, that plot details must remain meagre if this review isn't to go on too long.
The corruption of a government which condemns self-harming soldiers to an almost certain death in No-Man's-Land, the various stories of the five soldiers and their relatives, the woman left behind who swears vengeance on those responsible for her man's death - played with subtle brilliance by Marion Cotillard two years before Piaf and universal fame - and a telling cameo from none other than Jodie Foster as another widow. Apparently Foster happened to be in Paris and wanted to do a film in French, so contacted Jeunet, who was delighted to give her a role. Good move. She's excellent, in some of the tenderest scenes in a film full of bloody violence interspersed with great tenderness.
The look of a Jeunet film is invariably all-important. After all, this is the man who directed Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, two unique movies that not only look astounding but seem to reinvent cinema before one's dazzled eyes. This one is no exception. His visual style superficially reminds me of Gilliam or Wes Anderson, but Jeunet's films have a coherence and sense of pace too often lacking in Gilliam's, while Anderson (of whom I am not a fan) can only dream of making films this good.
All the performances are given room to breathe and establish their characters. We live with Mathilde's hopeless longing, and the final scenes are as cathartic, yet also as sweetly tragic, as it's possible to get in this brash medium.
Despite the regular montage-like visuals (all beautifully realised) this is an engrossing tale well told. Jeunet never bogs the story down in relentless visual pyrotechnics, deploying just enough cinematic flair to keep our eyes riveted to the sometimes hectic action on screen. Tautou's restrained, pent-up performance is the film's still centre. She's no cypher either, but a determined tough cookie when she needs to be. Her search for her missing fiance is unrelenting. You get the impression that Jeunet genuinely likes and respects women. He directs them with tact and sensitivity.
There is so much more I could say about this wonderful film, and so many moments which deserve noting. Best to see it for yourself. Most people won't forget it in a hurry.

A very good film.
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on 22 October 2009
A bizarre mix indeed but, believe it or not, it's a pretty apt description of this very odd but quite brilliant film.

First off, you get the most realistic depiction of what war must be like since "Saving Private Ryan", only this time the scene is the trenches in the Somme in 1917... so meticulously recreated, believably presented and deeply shocking that it will leave you stunned and drained by the time you've got through the first section of the film.

But then things become very different as director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and lead actress Audrey Tautou take very distinct aspects of their comic classic, "Amelie", and rework them into a much "darker" mix involving a charmingly poignant love story and an extremely complex and, in the end, pretty unbelievable detective story, centred on the fate of five men sentenced to almost certain death for self-mutilation in the trenches. Tautou plays a tougher but actually similarly sweet & quirky character to Amelie, and Jeunet uses a number of the same directing techniques that made "Amelie" such unconventional but fascinating viewing - flash backs, unusual camera angles, fast scene cutting, bizarre events, and intriguingly odd characters - right down to a secret box that holds the key to a mystery.

And, like "Amelie", the dialogue is in French and its delivery is fast, meaning that if you're trying to follow it with English sub-titles you're quite likely to get lost at key points. None of which sounds too promising. But no matter, because the detective story element of the film is fairly predictable, the dénouement to the love story holds no surprises and, their not why the film fully deserves a five star rating.

Why it does is because Jeunet is such a brilliant director and, as a result, the film is stuffed full with superb cinemaphotograhy, first class acting, wonderful scene-setting and, above all, a "pace" that holds your attention throughout and a "style" that makes for, at times, quite beautiful viewing... until, that is, you're plunged back into his equally brilliant vision of what life was actually like in the mud, squalor and blood of the trenches.

Horrific, charming, wholly believable and pretty unbelievable, all at the same time, "A Very Long Engagement" is an extremely strange film but one that will leave you marvelling at the sheer quality of its direction, photography and acting... and, as "Saving Private Ryan" achieved so successfully, it's depiction of the grim realities of war make it one of the best anti-war films that you're likely to see and one that you won't forget for a very long time.
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on 22 October 2009
A bizarre mix indeed but, believe it or not, it's a pretty apt description of this very odd but quite brilliant film.

First off, you get the most realistic depiction of what war must be like since "Saving Private Ryan", only this time the scene is the trenches in the Somme in 1917... so meticulously recreated, believably presented and deeply shocking that it will leave you stunned and drained by the time you've got through the first section of the film.

But then things become very different as director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and lead actress Audrey Tautou take very distinct aspects of their comic classic, "Amelie", and rework them into a much "darker" mix involving a charmingly poignant love story and an extremely complex and, in the end, pretty unbelievable detective story, centred on the fate of five men sentenced to almost certain death for self-mutilation in the trenches. Tautou plays a tougher but actually similarly sweet & quirky character to Amelie, and Jeunet uses a number of the same directing techniques that made "Amelie" such unconventional but fascinating viewing - flash backs, unusual camera angles, fast scene cutting, bizarre events, and intriguingly odd characters - right down to a secret box that holds the key to a mystery.

And, like "Amelie", the dialogue is in French and its delivery is fast, meaning that if you're trying to follow it with English sub-titles you're quite likely to get lost at key points. None of which sounds too promising. But no matter, because the detective story element of the film is fairly predictable, the dénouement to the love story holds no surprises and, their not why the film fully deserves a five star rating.

Why it does is because Jeunet is such a brilliant director and, as a result, the film is stuffed full with superb cinemaphotograhy, first class acting, wonderful scene-setting and, above all, a "pace" that holds your attention throughout and a "style" that makes for, at times, quite beautiful viewing... until, that is, you're plunged back into his equally brilliant vision of what life was actually like in the mud, squalor and blood of the trenches.

Horrific, charming, wholly believable and pretty unbelievable, all at the same time, "A Very Long Engagement" is an extremely strange film but one that will leave you marvelling at the sheer quality of its direction, photography and acting... and, as "Saving Private Ryan" achieved so successfully, it's depiction of the grim realities of war make it one of the best anti-war films that you're likely to see and one that you won't forget for a very long time.
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on 4 February 2009
With flashbacks before during and after WW1, the delicious Audrey Tautou as "Mathilde" yearns and searches for her lover and fiancé "Manech" who was presumed killed in the insanity of WW1, but she does not believe it. He was one of a handful of unfortunate soldiers thrown pointlessly "over the top", as a punishment (pour encourager les autres) for "self-inflicted wounds". Heading towards some Germans who were not, apparently, particularly keen on shooting them down in No Mans Land. In her search for her missing fiancé, "Mathilde" meets other women who lost their loved ones in the same grotesquely pointless incident. A scary looking Marion Cotillard goes on a post-WW1 vengeance mission murdering various men she blamed for the death of her paramour, who was another of the unfortunate condemned men. Jodie Foster pops up, speaking fluent French, as the partner of one of the other missing men. Growing up Jodie apparently attended a French-speaking school, the Lycée Français de Los Angeles and she is still fluent. As the international war-criminal, war-profiteering, bankster oligarchs, continue to send the "profane cattle" of humanity "over the top" into the abattoir of an endless "Global War of Terror" we might do well to remember the words of poor Jean Jaurès, murdered by the warmongers, on the eve of WW1.

"What will the future be like, when the billions now thrown away in preparation for war are spent on useful things to increase the well-being of people, on the construction of decent houses for workers, on improving transportation, on reclaiming the land? The fever of imperialism has become a sickness. It is the disease of a badly run society which does not know how to use its energies at home." French union leader and pacifist Jean Jaurès murdered by warmongers on July 31st, 1914, just before French mobilisation and war.
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