This movie bears the unmistakably imprint of a Jeunet, maker of the wonderful Amélie and, with Caro, Delicatessen, 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, jerky style is not to everybody’s taste, though the charm of Amélie won over the hearts of millions.
A Very Long Engagement 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!)
It takes to familiar turf in a very unfamiliar way, based on the relentless search for her sweetheart, Manech, by Tatou’s crippled Mathilde. Manech was officially was killed for self-mutilation in order to achieve desertion along with several others, the method for which was to release the soldiers from their trench into no man’s land, from where nobody escaped. Matilde refuses to give up, following clues with a perseverance that would defy all but the most foolhardy – but in doing so she has to battle a brutally corrupt French government in order to get to the truth that was denied her and others.
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. It was rated no 3 in one user’s list of all-time great war movies on iMDB, which is no small achievement – even if this will be a marmite movie that does not appeal to all tastes.
I’ve given AVLE 4 stars on my Amazon review 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!