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flick pick | A Very Long Engagement 2004
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Sébastien Japrisot [novel]
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Dominque Pinon, Chantal Neuwirth, Andre Dussolier, Ticky Holgado
Language: French [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under: foreign [French], drama, romance
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  artsy-fartsy, lovey, whimsical
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis On the mucky, bloody frontlines of France during WWI, five desperate French soldiers resort to shooting themselves in an attempt to be relieved of duty and be allowed to return home. Instead, their acts of self-mutilation are deemed treasonous by the military court; all five are punished with death, and sent to a camp with the unlikely name of Bingo Crepuscule, where the plan is to dump the five soldiers in the no-man's-land between French and German trenches and leave them to their almost certain deaths. One of these soldiers is a sweet-faced young man named Manech, nicknamed Cornflower by his fellow soldiers. Manech has a fiancée back home in his little farming village by the sea, a pretty girl named Mathilde who's been his best friend since childhood. While Manech faces his punishment, Mathilde patiently waits for the day that Manech will come home to her. When years later, she finally hears news from the army informing her that her fiancé is dead, she refuses to believe it. Ever the romantic, Mathilde is convinced that if Manech had been killed, she would have felt the loss of their connection as a palpable break. Her aunt and uncle, who have taken care of her since she was a child, do their best to get Mathilde to accept things and move on, but Mathilde decides to start her own investigation into the matter. With the help of an eccentric private investigator and her own clever wiles, she begins to unearth increasingly convincing evidence that the army higher-ups have been covering something up, and that her beloved Manech might still be alive.

Review I've long been a fan of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; in movies like Delicatessen, City of the Lost Children and Amélie, he's created gorgeous, intimately detailed little cinematic universes that are so weird and magical that I'm left feeling a little sad when the movies end, and I have to return to the real world, which inevitably feels a little drab in comparison. In many ways, A Very Long Engagement is a typical Jeunet film, a feast for the eyes that offers adorably oddball characters, played by actors that will be familiar to anyone who's seen the director's previous films (including star Audrey Tautou of Amélie, whose Mathilde is sort of a WWI-era version of the character that made her famous). There's always been an underpinning of sadness behind Jeunet's particular brand of whimsy, but in A Very Long Engagement, the quirk to darkness ratio seems flipped for the first time to favor the latter: this is far and away Jeunet's weightiest, most serious film, and there's an epic feel to the storytelling that makes this movie far more than just a sort of Amélie retread, but something more ambitious. A Very Long Engagement is really three stories in one: a love story, a war tale, and a mystery. That it tells all these stories so convincingly is a testament to how very finely constructed a film this is. Challenging the brain with its frequent plot twists as Mathilde discovers one new piece in the puzzle after another, hitting us in the gut with its depiction of the horrors and absurdities of war, and getting to our hearts as we see Mathilde and Manech's love story slowly unfolds through flashbacks, A Very Long Engagement is one of those rare movies that satisfies on just about every level. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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