Combustible Celluloid
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With: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Tchéky Karyo, Denis Lavant, Jodie Foster, Marion Cotillard
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, based on the book by Sébastien Japrisot
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
MPAA Rating: R for violence and sexuality
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 134
Date: 10/27/2004

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Warn Torn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet revisits his cartoon-paced juggling act last seen in Amelie for this WWI epic about a young war widow and polio survivor, Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) who becomes convinced that her fiancée Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) has survived against all odds. She spends years sleuthing and re-tracing the steps of his comrades, notably five men who tried to get out of military duty by self-mutilation. For Amelie, Jeunet's method heightened his delicate truffle of a story and turned it into a tough, sometimes raucous little comedy. Here he takes a horrible, tragic story -- from the book by Sebastien Japrisot -- and softens it with the same process. Jeunet criss-crosses seemingly hundreds of tiny storylines, involving such small things as contraband hot chocolate and a gravel path, using characters' most minute fears and desires as crucial plot devices. He also uses superimposed images in the corners of the frames to streamline his complicated cast of players and give us visual reminders of who's who. It's a beautiful accomplishment, even if it's not the triumph that Amelie is. Jeunet's precious storytelling structure sometimes rejects the truly horrific war tales, like puzzle pieces that fit together but do not reveal a matching picture. The ending especially leaves a strangely empty craving. The enormous cast features perfect little turns by Denis Lavant, Jodie Foster and many more.

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