A Very Long Engagement
Per its title, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement goes on too long, engulfing too many characters, and wearing out our empathy as the body count mounts. Using the rapid backwards-flashery that textured Jeunet’s frothy Amelie, we meet five soldiers in World War I: some everyday guys—a welder (Denis Lavant), a farmer (Clovis Cornillac) and a carpenter (Jérôme Kircher)—one a total prick pimp (Dominique Bettenfeld). And then there’s an angelic boy named Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), who has been in love with a polio-stricken girl named Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) since childhood. The five soldiers are court-martialed for injuring themselves to get out of battle and sent to their deaths in an open battlefield. After the war—and with the five soldiers’ fate a mystery—Mathilde becomes determined to find her lost-in-action amorata. What follows are her joyless manipulations of military officials, family members, a mailman, and a detective, her mounting desperation becoming pitiable, her hope dissolving into self-delusion. For the most part, Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) chills on his usual visual rococo; instead, his depictions of trench warfare are defined by filth, discomfort, and random death. It’s all too much, and it wears you out. Then again, it probably should.