I like to think that I am rarely at a loss for words, but this time I am. When Damien suggested that I watch this film I downloaded a copy immediately, although I did not know yet what to expect of it. Ace told me that it was lengthy and somewhat dragging (true to its title, she said), and so even as I started playing the movie last night I supposed it would just be a run-of-the-mill production, something to help pass the lethargic hours of the holiday season. I was wrong.
Online synopses will tell you that Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement is about a young woman’s (Audrey Tautou) relentless search for her fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel), who might have been killed in World War I. Much of the story occurs during the last years of the war, structured in flashbacks as Mathilde pieces together the history of Bingo Crepuscule, where five soldiers (including her childhood sweetheart Manech) are condemned to death for self-mutilation. In her investigation she traces the fates of all five men, along the way encountering characters like Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), a murderous prostitute seeking vengeance for her lover’s death.
I can go on and on describing the plot, but what in mere words I cannot say is how beautiful the cinematography was—the only thing I can tell you is to go watch it yourself. Memorable characters like the charming, polio-ridden Mathilde and the inflexible, sorrowful Tina Lombardi abound in the movie. Admittedly its convoluted plot made it difficult to follow at times (exacerbated by my distressing unfamiliarity with French names), but that is my only complaint. More than the horrors of war the story is a testament to the overwhelming tenacity of love: I for one could not help but surge with hope at almost every bend and turn. I believed in Manech, hoped with Mathilde; perhaps the only thing I failed to do was cry. Although the movie was unable to sufficiently suspend my disbelief, I found myself consciously disregarding it in favor of hope. That fact alone, I think, speaks volumes.
Comparisons with Amelie (2001) are unavoidable, since it’s the same director and actress. Like many others I find myself preferring the earlier film, though I’m not entirely sure why. But still I cannot deny very much enjoying A Very Long Engagement; I did not even feel those two hours.
The first time Mathilde and Manech made love, he fell asleep, his hand on her breast. Each time his wound throbs, Manech feels Mathilde’s heart in his palm. If Manech were dead, Mathilde would know.
‘If you can’t cry, try talking. If you can’t talk, say nothing. But sometimes, talking can bring on the tears. Tears say what you can’t say, if you get my drift?’
‘You’ve known he’s dead for three years. I call that stubbornness.’ ‘No, I call that hope.’
‘Revenge is pointless. Try to be happy, and don’t ruin your life for me.’
‘I regret nothing. Except my hair.’
‘Stay where you are, Mathilde. Just stay where you are. I’m on my way.’
In what she would refer to as her ‘Milly expedition’, the sun, the sky, and nature are with her.
Mathilde leans back against her chair, folds her hands in her lap, and looks at him. In the sweetness of the air, in the light of the garden, Mathilde looks at him. She looks at him… She looks at him…