Very Long Engagement (2004) – movie review

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld

Director: Jean Pierre Jeunet

The star and director (Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) of the vibrant French success AMéLIE reunite in this sweeping saga about love, war and the power of hope. Mathilde is a young, slightly disabled French girl who after the death of her parents goes to live with her uncle and aunt in a small town where she is befriended by a young boy called Manech. As they grow up they fall in love but then just as they come of age Manech (played by Gaspard Ulliel) goes off to fight in World War I where he along with a few other men are accused of self mutilation – an offence apparently punishable by death.

Meanwhile the now grown up Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) is patiently waiting for her true love to return to her as World War I draws to a close but she soon receives news that Manech has been court-marshalled and banished to no-man’s land between the French and German army frontlines and she desperately fears for his life. Thus begins her drive to find him, as she believes deep down in her soul that he is still alive and that one day she will be reunited with him.

Jean Pierre Jeunet proved his talent for visual flair in AMéLIE but here with a bigger budget courtesy of Warner Bros he has done the impossible and turned a battlefield into a thing of beauty. As the story unfolds he switches from scenes of carnage to idyllic countryside repeatedly showing the same scenes but each time from a different angle thus changing the shots in many ways. Visually on its own this is an instant masterpiece. This tale of enduring love and also the unfolding mystery of what actually happened to Manech and the other men sentenced to death is perfectly handled enabling the movie to steer clear of melodrama. The end result is undoubtedly a full blown saga that looks good, feels good and delivers all that it sets out to.

Audrey Tatou easily and passionately drives the film along with a heart felt performance that makes her character truly believable. She also manages to coax the audience into feeling the same anticipation as she does with each new discovery she encounters on this very personal journey of hers to discover the truth.

You will be hard tested to find a more engaging epic period, love story with an unravelling mystery than this film, which can be enjoyed by all ages.

5 out of 6 stars