Friday, September 23, 2011

A Very Long Engagement

Originally Written and Posted on 6/28/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

The worldwide success of 2001's Amelie brought recognition and attention to French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet as the film was considered to be one of the finest films ever made. The film also made actress Audrey Tautou an international star as she continued to make films in her native France as well as starring in Stephen Frears' 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things. For their next film, Jeunet and Tautou collaborated again for an adaptation of Sebastian Japrisot's novel about a woman's search for her fiancee who might have been killed in a battle during World War I.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet with an adapted script co-written with Guillaume Laurant, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles (A Very Long Engagement) is a love story set in World War I about a young woman who makes a desperate search for her fiancee during World War I. A more epic yet dream-like film that is similar to Amelie but more of a mix of different genres. Jeunet creates a film that is evocative as well as harrowing with Audrey Tautou in the role of Mathilde Donnay. Also starring Jeunet regulars Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, and Ticky Holgado, plus an all-star cast that includes Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Julie Depardieu, Andre Dussollier, Tcheky Karyo, and Jodie Foster. Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles is an epic, sweeping film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

It's late in World War I in the dark trences of Bingo Crepescule as five men are set to be executed in no man's land including Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) for acts of cowardice. Yet, their walk into this dark land would have them lost as Manech's fiancee Mathilde Donnay wonders what happened to him three years later. Knowing Manech since childhood, Mathilde longs for his return as she recalls memories as she had dealt with the death of her parents at age three while being with polio as she lives with her Aunt Benedict (Chantal Neuwirth) and Uncle Sylvain (Dominique Pinon). Mathilde's life with Manech was great until the war came as Mathilde wonder what happened to him as she meets a former lieutenant named Esperanza (Jean-Pierre Becker) who reveals what went on in that battle as did Captain Favourier (Tcheky Karyo) who reveals more that involved a report to be sent to Commandant Lavroye (Jean-Claude Dreyfus).

With Mathilde knowing more about other men that included a welder named Six-Soux (Denis Lavant), a soldier named Bastoche (Jerome Kircher), an ex-pimp called Bassignano (Dominique Bettenfeld), and a farmer named Benoit Notre-Dame (Clovis Cornillac). She turns to an investigator in Germaine Pire (Ticky Holgado) and a family friend Pierre-Marie Rouvieres (Andre Dussollier) for help in the search for Manech's status. Pire goes to a town to find Bassignano where he meets a former lover in Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard) who is revealed to be a mysterious killer seeking revenge. Mathilde and Rouvieres go through war records where they encounter classified information while learning about Lombardi who encounters Bastoche's girlfriend Veronique (Julie Depardieu). Yet, Mathilde meets Benjamin "Biscuit" Gordes (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who tells her more which leads her to meet Bastoche's widow Elodie (Jodie Foster).

After hearing Elodie's story where Elodie had an affair with Bastoche as things become more questionable. When an officer named Celestin Poux (Albert Dupontel) reveals Mathilde with revelations about the battle, he reveals what he saw though he was unsure who survived while revealing that Cpt. Favourier had pardon papers for those men during the battle. With Sylvain accompanying both of them to the land, they meet a German woman (Elina Lowensohn) who has clues while news that Lombardi has been captured. Mathilde meets Lombardi, before her execution, who gives final information about someone who knows what might've happened.

For a film that is epic and sweeping with huge images, what Jean-Pierre Jeunet and co-screenwriter Guillaume Laurant create is a film about a woman trying to keep hope alive that her beloved will return. Though it's a story that's been heard before recently in films like Anthony Mingella's adaptation of Cold Mountain back in 2003 and the recent adaptation of Atonement by Joe Wright. This film is different since it takes place after the war and is more about a woman's investigation into finding clues into the possibilities that her lover could be alive though the news of the outcome will be heartbreaking no matter what. While the story is filled with multiple subplots that tell clues of what might happen. Jeunet and Laurant make things interesting for the mystery though at times, it's hard to follow despite the narration by Florence Thomassain. Yet, the emotional outcome in the end makes the story worth it.

Jeunet's direction is truly superb in every frame and presentation he creates. Though his approach to the epic isn't perfect due to its pacing where it feels a bit overlong. Taking a period film with huge canvas and jaw-dropping visuals is truly majestic as he creates a world that is France but from another time. From its grimy, eerie depiction of war to the look and beauty of post World War I France including Paris. The look of the French countryside and sea plus Jeunet's look of the interiors where he takes the camera to create a world that is dream-like. The scope and look of the film and the compositions of where the characters are at and how they're in the frame of the scene. The result is truly magnificent as Jean-Pierre Jeunet creates an epic film that lives up to its richness and scale.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel does a wonderful job with the film's dream-like look awashed with yellow, sepia-like colors for the film's 1920 sequences to convey the sense of sunlight and beauty of France. Delbonnel also explores different color schemes for the film's war sequences where everything looks a bit de-saturated and grey to convey the film's bleakness. Delbonnel's work is truly superb for his coloring and look to help emphasize Jeunet's unique vision. Editor Herve Schneid does a great job with the film's stylized editing with the use of dissolves, transitions, and rhythmic jump-cuts. Particularly the film's investigation sequences where scenes are blended together while maintaining a leisurely yet engrossing pacing that goes well throughout though at times, is a bit slow.

Longtime set designer Aline Bonetto with set decorator Veronique Melery does a wonderful job in the recreation of 1920s France with its exteriors as well as the World War I war sequences of the trenches and hospital base during one notable scene. Costume designer Madeline Fontaine does a wonderful job with the film's period look with its hats, underwear, dresses, and suits to convey the look and feel of the film with standout clothing for characters like Mathilde and Tina. Sound editors Marilena Cavola and Gerard Hardy does a great job with the film's war sequences with the sounds of explosions, gun shots, bomb dropping, and such to convey the horror of war as well as other sequences including the busy sound of 1920 Paris. Visual effects supervisor Alain Carsoux does some wonderful visual effects for a few scenes of the war and a great shot of the sky of the lighthouse to emphasize the film's dream-like look.

Music composer Angelo Badalamenti, famous for his work with David Lynch, does an amazing job with the film's dreamlike yet sweeping film score. Filled with huge arrangements, flourishing strings, and a grand atmosphere, Badalmenti's score is full of wondrous melodies and arrangements that sweep up the scenery without overdramatizing or underplaying the film's emotions. Badalamenti’s score is truly one of the film's highlights.

The casting by Pierre-Jacques Benichou, Marie-Sylvie Caillierez, and Valerie Espagne is truly magnificent for its diverse array of actors including appearances from Jeunet regulars Rufus as a man named Breton and Urbain Cancelier as a priest plus notable small appearances from Julie Depardieu, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Levantal as one of the evil officers named Thouvenal, Jean-Paul Rouve as a postman, Michel Robin as an old man showing Mathilde the battlefield, Christian Pereira as an archives officer, and Phillippe Duquesne as the bartender Favart. Tcheky Karyo is great as a captain who tries to get everyone into battle while learning of a betrayal concerning the soldiers who were supposed to be executed. Jean-Claude Dreyfus is excellent as the conniving Commandant Lavrouye as is Jean-Pierre Becker as Esperanza. Denis Lavant, Jerome Kircher, and Dominique Bettenfeld are great as the three of the five soldiers who are to be executed as each actor have an individual moment.

Clovis Cornillac is great as the mysterious yet tough Benoit Notre-Dame who tried to help Manech during their time in no man's land while proving to be the toughest of them all. Jean-Pierre Darroussin is good as Benjamin "Biscuit" Gordes as a man who tries to get out of the war only to have his heart broken until seeing that Bastoche is to be executed. Andre Dussollier and Jeunet regular Ticky Holgado are great as the two men investigating Manech's possible whereabouts and death as Dussollier plays the more serious of the two with Holgado as the more upbeat individual. Albert Dupontel is great as Celeste Poux, the soldier who reveals what he saw at the battle as he raises the hope of Mathilde. Chantal Neuwirth is wonderfully funny as Aunt Benedicte who likes the sound of dog farts and making food for other people. Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon is also funny as Uncle Sylvain who is often annoyed by the arrival of the postman while enjoys having fun with Celeste Poux.

Jodie Foster is brilliant in a rare performance, where doesn't act all frantic in some of her recent films, as she speaks perfect French as a widow who reveals to Mathilde in a letter about her affair with Basconte and the damage it caused to his friendship with her husband. Marion Cotillard is amazing as the mysterious yet sexy Tina Lombardi, an assassin-of-sorts wanting vengeance as she reveals secrets to Mathilde about the men she killed. Cotillard is truly magnificent as he brings a complexity to a woman who might seem evil but her intentions are for the right reasons as she and Tautou, in the lone scene they're in are great consider that they're two of France's finest actresses. Gaspard Ulliel is excellent as Manech, Mathilde's lover who is desperate to be with her as it's the one that's trying to keep him alive while his whereabouts remain unknown.

Finally, there's Audrey Tautou in another powerful performance from the French actress. Though not as whimsical or as lively as her title role in Amelie, Tautou's determined, grand performance is truly spectacular as she delves into her emotions as a woman desperate to try and find the truth. Even in scenes where she's playing a tuba, there's a lot of emotions carried out by doing so little. Tautou breathes a lot of life into the character of Mathilde, even with her limp and flaws, Tautou makes her into a character whose journey is thrilling to watch.

While not as brilliant as Amelie, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles is still a spectacular epic film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou. Fans of Jeunet will no doubt enjoy the director's dream-like vision to the sweeping, romantic-epic genre mixed in with the harsh imagery of war. With a superb cast that includes standout performances from Marion Cotilliard and Jodie Foster, this is a film lives up to its grand presentation. In the end, for a film that is romantic, big, and certainly emotional, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles is the film to see.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet Films: Delicatessen - The City of Lost Children - Alien: Resurrection - Amelie - Micmacs - (The Young and Prodigious Spivet) - The Auteurs #20: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

(C) thevoid99 2011

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