Jean Pierre Jeunet is one of my favorite filmmakers. Three of his films would make my hypothetical all-time favorite movies list: Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Amelie. Now I can add a fourth to that list, A Very Long Engagement (2004).
With Jeunet’s trademark lush cinematography, A Very Long Engagement is a romantic film, but one that doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of war both physical and mental. The film’s story begins on January 6, 1917 – exactly ninety days before we watched it – when five French soldiers are court-martialed for self-mutilation. There punishment is to be thrown out of the trench into No Man’s Land where presumably the Germans will take care of their execution. One of the victims is Manech Langonnet (Gaspard Ulliel), a young man engaged to Mathilde Donnay (Audrey Tatou).
Three years later Mathilde is still convinced that Manech is alive and will return to her. She begins a search to find him by looking for all the other men who were in the trench that day and their families. What follows is a mix of mystery as Mathilde pieces the story together with the grim realism of war contrasted with romantic flashbacks to Mathilde and Manech’s youth. There’s also a political message of the social injustices of war that find the poor and powerless stuck in the trenches. A Very Long Engagement is also very funny at times.
Overall this is a brilliant film that’s got me still trying to untangle it’s complexities long after it is over. I have been wanting to see this movie for a long time and it was worth the wait.
PS – Despite all appearances I’m not really watching French films to the exclusion of all else.