A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose camera style and imagery Guillermo del Toro pilfered for his excrutiatingly bad Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), is a cherished filmmaker; not by me, however. I find his work hollow, lightweight and bedecked with pointless swooping camera movements and nonsensical digital effects. From Sébastien Japrisot’s novel, Un long dimanche de fiançailles is convolutedly plotted though engrossing, at times touching, but inconsequential—a lavish post-World War I romantic mystery as heroine Mathilde investigates the whereabouts of her beloved Manech, a soldier whose self-mutilation got him court-martialed and tossed, along with similar offenders, into No-Man’s-Land.
     There are things I like about this movie. Its portrait of Great War commotion and combat is properly grim. Also, there is its theme of people pulling together—for the sake of survival, but also with a measure of compassion and sacrifice, among the convicted soldiers; and the sense of shared mission as Mathilde tries finding Manech, with the assistance of many even as they disapprove of her stubborn refusal to accept the overwhelming evidence that her lover is dead. (Even as she faces his tombstone in a military cemetery, she will not accept that Manech is lost to her forever.) Indeed, Mathilde needs the help of others, not least of all because she is afflicted with polio, and each step of her adventure is as painfully difficult physically as emotionally.
     But I do not care for Audrey Tautou, the star of Jeunet’s insipid Amélie (2001). Nor do I find Jeunet’s affected, grandiose style of value. Good performances, from André Dussollier, Jean-Louis Dreyfus and especially, in an uncommonly sensual turn, Jodie Foster, and the star-making appearance of Gaspard Ulliel as Manech: these are not enough. Frankly, I was surprised at how little brilliant young Ulliel was given to do.

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One thought on “A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004)

  1. …excruciatingly bad Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)…

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to think so!

    As for A Very Long Engagement, agreed: good reflection of French mindset during WWI, but otherwise so-so. Have you read the novel?

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