Thursday, December 01, 2005

A 2 1/4 Hour Long French Flick

A Moving Picture Review

A conspicuous absence from last years best foreign film Oscar nomination's, was French director Jean-Pierre Jeunets adaptation of Sebastien Japrisot's novel A Very Long engagement. The film re-teams actress Audrey Tautou (the most beautiful women in the world) with the director that launched her career with 2001's academy Award winning Amelie. Thought bering some stylistic similarities with the pairs previous collaboration, A Very Long engagement is a very different film in both subject matter and tone. Both movies are visual feasts, idealistic romances that maintain a degree of playfulness throughout, but Engagement is a more serious film that tackles issues of war more effectively then any motion picture of recent memory.

A Very Long Engagement is the story of Mathilde an orphaned French girl raised by a loving aunt and uncle on a country farm. About three years before the movies 1920 setting, Mathilde's childhood sweetheart and fiance Manech went missing and presumed dead in the trenches of the first World War. Never giving up hope that her true love had somehow survived, Mathilde embarks on a renewed search for him when a former solder provides evidence that he might still be living. From here on in the movie becomes a fascinating detective story as Mathilde, her family, a friend of her late parents and a privet investigator attempt to find Manech and untangel the complicated narratives regarding him and four fellow solders.

The movie is a very effective anti-war film as the vivid dramitizations of trench war-fair and the resentment and fear the solders felt toward it, shed much light on the reasoning behind the widely held French predilection toward pacifism. One of the more interesting things I learned from the film (besides the fact that the French President fell out of a train in his pajamas in 1920) was that many French solders engaged in self-mutilation in an attempt to get of the front. In fact the group that Manech disappears with were all sent into no-mans-land after having been found guilty of attempting to do just that.

While the bright and optimistic Amelie remains my favorite French film next to Renoirs Grand Illusion (also a World War I movie), A Very Long Engagement is a masterpiece with much to recommend it. A kind of in-direct companion piece to Kubrick 1957 film Paths of Glory, Engagement is a wonderful film about the aftermath of a great war and brings the domestic tragedy of military conflict closer to the viewer then any movie you've likely to have experienced before.


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