A Very Long Engagement Reviews
The piece-meal approach to the storytelling makes it difficult to get a grasp on the characters and the quickly developing plot - so the viewer isn't able to completely get lost in the storytelling.
You know, as much as they call it very long, this engagement doesn't really seem long enough, or at least it doesn't at times, as the film will spend more than a few occasions glossing over exposition, typically through narrated montages of happenings that get kind of repetitious after a while, before making a sudden slow-down that is generally comfortably paced, but all too often descends into a borderline limpness that may never be dull, per se, but certainly bland things up. The film is adequately entertaining, like I said earlier, but when it slow down, it throws you off, and not just because slow spells bookend a bit of unevenness in pacing, whose inconsistency still isn't as awkward as the occasions of inconsistency within tone. With this film, I have now only seen two Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, so I can only assume that he does this often, but one of the things that I absolutely hated the most about the disaster that was "Alien Resurrection" was it's being so actively over-the-top in its embrassingly unfitting and fall-flat tongue-in-cheek attitude, and while such cornball whimsy isn't as grating in this film as it could have been, it's much more prevalent than it should be, tainting conceptually consistently serious subject matter with many a moment of silliness that doesn't fit and, more often than not, doesn't even hit by its own right, serving only to throw off dramatic momentum that is hurt enough by cheesiness' also finding its way into the drama at times. I feared that French romantic dramatastic histrionics would work its way into this affair at points, and sure enough, not all is completely genuine in this film's dramatic depth, which is generally effective, but sometimes takes on distancing melodrama that would be easier to forgive if it wasn't for its familiarity. The film is kind of formulaic, and I guess there's no way around that, because subject matter of this type, while worthy, has been too done to death for all that much uniqueness to take place, no matter how much this film tries, yet conventionalism leaves you to step back and meditate upon this film's handful of distinguishing factors, including the not so flattering ones, from uneven areas to overambition that leave the final product to fall short of its potential. Of course, as shaky as this affair is, you remain engaged through and through (Pun oh so very much intended), unable to ignore shortcomings, but even less able to ignore strengths, even when it comes to production value.
Again, I haven't seen too much from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but what handful I have seen of Jeunet's tastes show me that the man knows production value, as this film further proves through intricate production designs by Aline Bonetto that bring early 20th century Europe, inside and outside of the warzone, to lush life that, when accompanied by Madeline Fontaine's fine costume designs, sell you on the era, while the soul of this film owes a large part of its being so effectively sold at times to Angelo Badalamenti's score, which is formuliac, but powerful, with a rich range that dances between hauntingly deep to wonderfully sweeping, but nevertheless keeps consistent in loveliness. The film's musical artistry is outstanding, both by its own right and as a compliment to the film's tasteful heart, but at the end of the day, it's the film's visual artistry that truly stands out, as the great Bruno Delbonnel delivers on cinematography that is not only framed in a fashion that gives you a fine feel for both the sweep and intimacy of this mini-epic, but a highly distinct greenish orange, almost gold color palette whose lushness has to be seen in order to be believed, gracing every shot with profound, painting-like spectacle that takes your breath away time and again, and is among the things most worthy of appreciation in the final product. Boasting richly thoughtful production value, arrestingly tasteful musical and photographic value, and, yes, even exceptional technical value that puts anything from strong visual effects to thumping sound design to immersively good use, particularly during the typically tense war sequences, this film is nothing if not well-crafted when it comes to aesthetics, and accels exceedingly stylistically, though not so much so that the final product forgets its substance. Sure, whether it is because other standard differences or whatever, the film's style is stronger than its storytelling, but there's no ignoring the many moments in which Jean-Pierre Jeunet settles down all of the silliness and unevenness to deliver on effective resonance to break up a consistently fair degree of inspiration that gives you a compellingly decent feel for the value within this worthy, if formulaic story concept. The film is rarely, if ever truly movingly powerful, but where Jeunet could have overstepped pacing issues, dramatic shortcomings or simply awkward ambition, to the point of sparking underwhelmingness, he finds himself with enough control of resonance to engross more often than not, with no light help from a cast that is just as inspired. The acting isn't exactly killer on the whole, but most everyone has his or her time to shine, whether it be such supporting players as the particularly effective Marion Cotillard as a vengeful woman, or leading lady Audrey Tautou, whose subtly human and engagingly convincing portrayal of a woman seeking out the lost love of her life whose fate is in question. I wish I could say that the final product is, on the whole, as strong as it could have been, or at least as strong as it wants to be, but no matter how much this ambitious effort slips up, it accels enough, both stylistically and dramatically, to thoroughly engage, occasionally move and ultimately reward.
To end this engagement, pacing unevenness creates slightly slapdashed moments and blad slow spells, while tonal unevenness creates moments of whimsy silliness that doesn't work, joining histrionics and conventionalism in shaking the dramatic foundation that is left too tattered to be as firm as it could have been, but not so tattered that exceptional production value, powerful score work, stunning cinematography and a compelling story - brought to life by Jean-Pierre Jeunet's sometimes very effective direction and a collection of inspired performances - are obscured as the engaging strengths that go into making "A Very Long Engagement" a flawed, but ultimately rewarding drama.
3/5 - Good
Mathilde is unconvinced, and makes it her mission to get to the bottom of it. She hires a private investigator, she heads all around the country, and has this sole desire. She uncovers much more than she expects, however, and discovers the fate not only of her fiancé, but of the other soldiers, and the system which was used to deal with dissenting soldiers from the army. Her determination in this case is something to be admired, and it results in quite the emotional journey because of this.
If A Very Long Engagement wasn't based around the war, it would easily be on the same level as Amélie, at least in terms of tone. Audrey Tautou is such a pleasant figure to watch on-screen, that even when dark events are being told, we can't help but smile. Her quest, like the one in the earlier film, is one that she takes in good faith. There's nothing to be lost, really, as she'd already lived a couple of years without Manech, so even if she discovers that he did, in fact, die in the war, nothing would have changed. It's because of this that you don't think there's much of a risk to her quest.
There is, however, which comes in the form of a prostitute-turned-assassin named Tina (Marion Cotillard), who doesn't get a lot of explanation but whose scenes indicate that Jeunet could direct a thriller or a horror film with great success. The means by which she disposes of targets are ingenious, and they add the additional darkness, and sense of danger, that would be otherwise missing. She has a reason for existing, but not much of it is revealed; she's a mystery, and that is how she should stay.
For the most part, this is a film in which the main character has to solve a mystery. It's not a murder, like it so often is, but there is a case to be figured out nonetheless. Some clues lead deeper, while some provide red herrings. The early scenes don't benefit from this form of storytelling, but after A Very Long Engagement gets going, it's quite engaging and effective. The flashbacks woven in don't help matters, especially because what they reveal has often already been implied or explained.
It's still a sweet, interesting little movie. Okay, "little" isn't exactly fair, as it takes place over a relatively long time frame and in multiple locations. It goes from a gritty portrayal of war to an almost too-good-to-be-true "detective" film, each of which is successful enough. Put together, and juxtaposing the awfulness of war with Audrey Tautou certainly brings the former's point across, there is an enjoyable movie left for the audience.
There is some beautiful filmmaking at work with A Very Long Engagement. The camera does not focus squarely on the face of Tautou, like it did in Amélie. Here, we get sweeping shots of Paris, and of the war. Paris, shot in the best possible light and made to be a picturesque place, while the trenches of the war are suitably filthy and absolutely disgusting. You get the horrors of war and the joy of France all in one movie. How often do you get that? I suppose that question depends on your knowledge of French cinema, but if you're 99% of the potential audience, your answer will be "Not very often, and I would like it more so I'm going to watch this movie." Isn't it great when decisions are made for you?
The title might be off-putting. The film does run for over two hours -- although just, clocking in at 133 minutes -- but it never feels long. There is always something interesting going on, either in the determination of its main character, the mystery she's trying to solve, or the sweet romance driving her actions.
Audrey Tautou is not as sweet as she was in Amélie. She isn't a pixie here; her character is more subdued, as is required. This makes her no less captivating, but if you're expecting a pseudo-sequel in a similar vein to Jeunet's previous film, you're not going to get one. The rest of the cast is strong, too, although they do not leave the impression that Tautou can. There's even one stunt casting here, as Jodie Foster turns up for seemingly no reason, and draws attention to herself by doing so. You instantly recognize that it's Foster, and you're taken out of the film.
A Very Long Engagement is an enjoyable mystery-romance that has one of the most likable leading actors working today, an engaging and important story, and some gorgeous cinematography. It's too slow at the beginning, and it doesn't completely add up, but it's a very enjoyable movie, one that is effective at doing all it aims to do. It's not Amélie 2, aiming for a very different tone, but it's still a very good movie by a talented director, and I think it's worth a watch.
Worth a rental.
The basic premise is of a grieving widow(fiance, actually) who has apparently lost her soon-to-be husband in the war. She refuses to accept his death, and proceeds to investigate the scenario surrounding it.. This is the whole movie. Her meet ups with long lost soldiers, girlfriends, etc. to try and put the pieces together.
Audrey Tautou is wonderful as always. The movie is really hers. She plays determined rather well.
All the other actors were fine, but particularly memorable.
The movie is beautiful to look at. The cinematography is stunning. The beautiful French cottages that these people live in are freakin; perfect. I want one.
This really is a good movie, but it's not for everyone. There's a few war scenes, but it's mostly quiet drama. Unless your a Tautou fan, you could probably skip it.