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As World War I draws to an end in France, Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) gets word that her fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is one of five soldiers who wounded themselves to avoid the trenches; they have been court-martialled and pushed out into the no-man's land between the French and German armies to almost certain death. Unwilling to accept that her beloved Manech is lost to her forever, Mathilde embarks on an extraordinary journey to discover the fate of her lover. At each turn, she receives a different heartbreaking variation on how Manech must have spent those last days, those last moments. Still, she never gets discouraged.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A major accomplishment, A Very Long Engagement combines the gore of war and the romance of eternal love in a stylish, beautifully packaged film with exceptional production design and cinematography. The period - WW1 - is important both for the film's emotional resonances and the tone of the characters. But it's the story that matters most, along with its lesson in hope and faith. And love.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet adds his personal filmic style to the adaptation by the voice over narrative that takes us across the characters and their backstories, and much like in Amelie, there are morsels of droll humour and detail thrown in. The other major style element is the quaint device of split screening in the old fashioned, bleed style, where the second image hovers in the main frame without the harsh edges of a framed picture.

This is used to both inform us and as a device to link the action that is taking place in the centre of the scene and at its outer edge.

The cast is superb, with Audrey Tautou a resilient yet vulnerable young woman determined to follow her instinct, her gut feeling, that her young man is still alive. The entire emotional charge of the film rests on her belief, and the story telling manages to keep us guessing right to the end. But so much misery and pain are encountered along the way that we almost sag under the burden.

The horrors of WW1 are all too cruelly captured in a series of scenes that equal the intensity and terror of Saving Private Ryan. But the film also offers astonishing scenes of Paris of the era, thanks to digital magic. In many ways, the physicality of the settings are significant elements that make the film almost tangible in its authenticity.

Perhaps its one weakness, though, is the screenplay's complexity; the trail that Tautou's Mathilde follows is complicated by nicknames for characters of whom there are a few too many to keep track of, and the machinations of some of these add an element of confusion to the developments. But the resolution is clear and it's satisfying - a film whose elaborate scenario and deeply felt sentiments are worth digesting slowly as the end credits roll.

On Disc 1, there’s a director’s commentary, and on Disc 2 some additional scenes, interviews and four documentaries on the film and its historical era. Jeunet’s commentary (subtitled) is excellent: he takes us with ease into his filmmaking confidence and deepends our appreciation of the film. This, despite his warning at the start that his commentary would destroy the film’s poetry for the viewer … unless we’d seen the film first. Well, that’s good advice and common sense.

The DVD is beautifully designed and generously fitted out with extras on a disc of their own, including a feature length doco shot during filming. All the material is compelling and the release does justice to this fine piece of cinema, drawing us in all over again.


Published June 9, 2005

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(France, 2004)

Un long dimanche de fiançelles

CAST: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominique Pinon, Clovis Cornillac, Jerome Kircher, Chantal Neuwirth, Albert Dupontel, Denis Lavant, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marion Cottilard, Andre Dussolier, Ticky Holdago

PRODUCER: Angus Finney, Alain Bonetto

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

SCRIPT: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant (novel by Sebastien Japrisot)


EDITOR: Herve Schneid

MUSIC: Angelo Badalmenti


RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2004


SPECIAL FEATURES: Additional scenes, director's commentary, four documentaries on the film and its historical era; cast and crew interveiws

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: June 8, 2005

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