Written by Films

A Very Long Engagement

A couple of years ago I fell in love with Audrey Tatou. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that in actual fact I fell in love with her character in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film Amelie. Jeunet had previously made Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children and, er, Alien Resurrection.
But Amelie was when he really hit the big time, and I loved it – as well as its star, Audrey Tatou.
Now Jeunet is back, and once again he has Audrey Tatou starring, with A Very Long Engagement in which he takes a slightly different direction to his previous French language films – but only slightly.
The story, co-written by Jeunet, is set in during the latter years of the First World War through until 1920. Mathilde (Tatou) is engaged to Manech, but he has to go off to war where the horrors leave him to try to get out of the frontline by deliberately getting his hand shot. Along with a group of similar soldiers he’s sentenced to death for desertion and is sent “over the top” to a certain death in the middle of no-man’s land. But things aren’t that simple. We fast-forward until 1920 and Mathilde still believes that since she has no hard evidence to the contrary, her lover may still be alive and somehow have survived his ordeal.
That, put very simply, is what the story of the film is about. But of course that loose description barely touches on what happens. As before there are hallmark “oddities” of some of the characters (Mathilde, for example, enjoys playing single notes on her tuba). But before you think that this is a frivalous and light hearted story, you really need to know that the scenes on the front line in the trenches, are every bit as horrific as those at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.
In that respect, the film has a slightly schizophrenic character, but nothing is out of place, and despite the horror of some of the scenes, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Interestingly, this film is partially funded by Warner Brothers, and as such, seems to have been at the centre of some controvosy in France for not being a “real” French film. Irrespective of where the cash may have come from (and, as usual, there TF1 and Canal+ cash there too), it’s as French a film as you can imagine. I also understand that it was made for a minimal amount of cash, which is all the more remarkable given the outstanding representations of post-war Paris that are evoked.
I was lucky enough to attend the premiere and Jean-Pierre Jeunet introduced the film himself. He invited Audrey Tatou, and co-star Gaspard Ulliel onto the stage at the beginning. Then after the film there was a little function I managed to get along to, but it was only as I departed that I noticed that Audrey was in attendence! How annoying is that? I may have to look through some of the tabloids and “celebrity” magazines to see if any of them have any good photos of her!