A Very Long Engagement (15)
Time Out saysIt’s funny how such an anodyne filmmaker as Jean-Pierre Jeunet can provoke such controversy. The French director’s last film, ‘Amélie’, had some quarters of the French press up in arms about its perceived twee – and suspiciously white – portrayal of modern Paris. Now, his latest film has already been dragged through the French courts to determine its official nationality (though made in France in French, it’s financed by an American studio, Warner Bros). Jeunet lost the case: ‘Not French enough!’ cried the judge, as over four million of Jeunet’s compatriots flocked to see the film in its first month.
This kinetic love story orbits the First World War and re-introduces us to Jeunet’s favourite elfin angel Audrey Tautou, who plays Mathilde, a young woman whose true love, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), is called up to the trenches. Once there, he is found guilty of mutilating himself in order to escape the frontline and is sentenced to death along with four other soldiers (including one who accidentally triggers his gun while banishing rats from his bed, so blasting off his hand). The ceasefire comes and goes, and Manech’s fate remains unknown, yet Mathilde clings to an overpowering belief that he is alive, despite a flood of information suggesting otherwise.
The film is built on flashbacks, rapid mises-en-scène, many of them prompted by differing testimonies, memories, hunches and desires both from Mathilde and witnesses she speaks to. Nothing and everything is true, and it’s a delicious take on the nature of storytelling itself. It’s dizzying, romantic stuff as Jeunet employs wonderful colours, imagery and a dark humour to catapult us through the story.
The war scenes are vicious and brutal. One minute we’re immersed in the whimsy of teenage love, the next we’re in the shit and piss of the battlefield. It’s heaven and hell, both coming at you in turn, courtesy of Jeunet’s delicious and unique visual language.
Fri Jan 21, 2005