Posted by Matt
Today I saw Jean-Pierre Jeunet's newest film, A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles), based on a book by Sebastien Japrisot (which I know nothing about). It stars Audrey Tautou as Mathilde, a young woman whose fiancé (Manech, played by Gaspard Ulliel) has not returned from World War I. She decides to find out what has happened to him. We learn at the beginning of the film that he is one of five soldiers whose punishment for injuring themselves to try to get sent home is to be cast into a no-man's-land between French and German lines at the Somme. The story unfolds mostly through the letters and firsthand accounts she receives from those who were there, or those close to them.
David Edelstein's Slate review calls the film "Amélie Goes to War," and that's not a bad assessment, as it has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. A lot of the film's appeal comes from brief asides on various interesting characters. The film is also visually striking, with lots of beautiful views of the French countryside, contrasting with the grey grimness of the war scenes. I'm not sure how I feel about the treatment of the war in the movie: it's certainly grim, but it somehow doesn't seem very serious. There's some nice satire, and the absurdity of the war and the decisions of the military commanders is striking, but the battlefield scenes themselves don't seem to carry the weight that they should. That's part of a larger criticism: it was hard to really sympathize with Mathilde's quest, as she seemed too detached. There was a weird contrast between the obsessiveness of her search, and the lack of emotional display. Maybe this is a weakness of the actress, Tautou, whose primary tool in Amélie seemed to be a sort of knowing smile exchanged with the camera. Here that smile is out of place, and we get some unconvincing, vaguely sad facial expressions instead.
Still, it was an enjoyable movie, largely because of the varied and interesting minor characters, most of whom were played more compellingly than Mathilde herself. It's really in the little details that this movie was most satisfying: the flight of an albatross and the trio of "M"s Manech likes to carve, or the mailman who likes to scatter gravel when he brings his bicycle to a stop in front of Mathilde's home, are a couple of the motifs that nicely bind the film together. I just couldn't help feeling that this could have been a much better film if only Mathilde's emotions were shown to us more; the source of her motivation in her long, hopeless search was not clear. I'm not sure how much to attribute this failure to Jeunet and how much to Tautou, but my impression was that it was mostly a fault of Tautou's detachment.Posted by Matt at December 30, 2004 02:00 AM