A Very Long Engagement proves that Amelie is still director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterpiece. Although he’s as visually adept as ever in his latest film, the movie manages to feel long and tedious. The trouble is the script by Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant, which plays like a very conventional, overlong whodunit.
Lookin’ for Love
R for violence, sexuality
At its core, the story is about a love between Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) and Manech (Gaspard Ulliel). As in Cold Mountain, we have to take their great love on faith because the two spend the whole movie apart from each other, always searching for each other.
The movie plays more like a mystery than a love story. Manech, along with five other WWI soldiers, is court-martialled for shooting himself in the hand. He is sent over the top into no-man’s land and left for dead.
His story is narrated by the various people and documents Mathilde uncovers in her search for him. Tautou exudes some charm in Mathilde’s dogged belief that Manech is still alive, but it’s a faint echo of her appeal in Amelie. After 90 minutes and a dozen scenes of searching, even Jeunet’s amazing visual style isn’t enough to keep you from fidgeting in your seat.
Jeunet into the Past
Jeunet’s style really is amazing, and it is enough to make A Very Long Engagement worth a look. Where Amelie was bright, vivid, and green, A Very Long Engagement is a dark, rich sepia. Mathilde’s room has pools of golden light and deep shadows. The trenches are as bleak as ever, but with the grim cartoonish exaggeration of a graphic novel. Jeunet finds beauty in steam trains, old libraries, vintage clothing, and a small house in the French countryside.
Jeunet does his best to keep the film moving along. Each of Mathilde’s investigations leads to another interview, and another, a la Citizen Kane. She encounters a parade of interesting French faces (along with several Jeunet regulars and a surprising appearance by Jodie Foster, speaking what sounds like very good French).
But at some point, a point you will reach before the filmmakers, rather than investigating another lead, you just want to cut to the ending.
So A Very Long Engagement is not Jeunet’s best work. It is still gorgeous and often entertaining. But for the man who directed (or co-directed) Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie, that’s a mild disappointment.