A Very Long Engagement

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who's best known for the dark-hued but dazzling visuals of films like DELICATESSEN (1991) and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995), finally balances style and substance with this visually stunning and emotionally resonant parable of love lost in the aftermath of a devastating war. Paris, 1920: Three years ago, five French soldiers...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who's best known for the dark-hued but dazzling visuals of films like DELICATESSEN (1991) and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995), finally balances style and substance with this visually stunning and emotionally resonant parable of love lost in the aftermath of a devastating war. Paris, 1920: Three years ago, five French soldiers were sentenced to die on the western front for mutilating themselves in hopes of escaping the nightmare of the trenches and returning home. They were instead escorted to a front-line trench nicknamed the "Bingo Crepuscule" and, as dawn was breaking, cruelly hoisted over the barbed-wire barricade and tossed into the no-man's-land separating the French and German troops — sitting ducks who didn't stand a chance of living to see another sunrise. But now that the war's over, 20-year-old Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), whom childhood polio left with a limp, has trouble believing her lover, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), really died that terrible morning. Raised on the Breton coast by her aunt and uncle (Chantal Neuwirth and Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) close to the lighthouse where Maneche once helped his father guide boats to safety, Mathilde feels that the emotional tie she always shared with Manech remains unbroken. Certain that he's alive — a prisoner of the Germans, perhaps, or hiding from the French authorities, who still regard him as a criminal — Mathilde sets about investigating the fate of the soldiers of the "Bingo Crepuscule" to learn whether any of the prisoners might have survived. With just a box of the convicts' mementos, some highly confidential documents smuggled out of the top-secret army archives and the help of a notorious private detective (Ticky Holgado) at her disposal, Mathilde goes looking for her lost lover. Not since James Cameron's TITANIC (1997) have digital effects been used so convincingly to reconstruct a long-gone time and place, but there's nothing quaint about any of it. The war scenes are appropriately grisly, and a number of startling sequences reflect Jeunet's predilection for the bizarre. The mysterious nun wielding a hypodermic filled with syphilitic blood and a grisly death by a bordello-ceiling mirror that wouldn't be out of place in an Italian thriller from the 70s. The film is a trifle too long for its rather slim mystery, but in the face of so much beauty and invention that's a small quibble. And yes, the Polish woman hawking vegetables by the Seine is Jodie Foster.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who's best known for the dark-hued but dazzling visuals of films like DELICATESSEN (1991) and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995), finally balances style and substance with this visually stunning and emotionally resonant parabl… (more)

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