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Review: A Long Engagement Sunday (2004)

Directed by: | 134 minutes | , , | Actors: , , Jodie Foster, Marion Cotillard, , , , Jean-Pierre Darroussin, , Jean-Claude Dreyfus, , , , Jérôme Kircher, , ,

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films have so far been characterized by visual discoveries, original humor and surrealistic features. His first (‘Delicatessen’) was a cinematographic delicacy with a lot of black humor and a bizarre plot, his penultimate (‘Amélie’) proved that Jeunet could also come up with some nice anecdotes. The only thing that was missing so far was a good story, a solid composition that could make the film rise above the sum of its parts. This will be the reason why Jeunet based his latest production on a story that has long and widely proven itself: ‘Un long dimanche de fiançailles’, the beautiful novel by Sebastien Japrisot, who died last year.

The cinema visitor who had counted on the lovely atmosphere of ‘Amélie’ had better skip the opening scenes. The first fifteen minutes of the film takes place in the trenches, a location that, with its bloody realism, feels more surreal than all of Jeunet’s previous locations put together. Here it is also very clear why the First World War is still called the Great War in our neighboring countries. Blood, guts, noise, shell shock, mutilated, crushed, death. With visual mastery, Jeunet shows the hell called trench warfare, while sparing neither stomach nor weak nerves.

After the first fifteen minutes, the film slows down. We follow the quest of the crippled Mathilde (Tautou) who is convinced that her fiancé Manech (Ulliel) is still alive. In a decor with a striking number of shades of yellow, this tour takes you past a procession of colorful characters: detectives, bartenders, women of easy and strict morals, war victims and bon vivants. The large number of characters and complex entanglements make it necessary for the spectator not to lose concentration; once you lose the thread, you are immediately lost for good. If you keep following the thread, you will be rewarded with an ingenious story, unparalleled filmed, well acted (Cotillard, Ulliel, Foster) and with the necessary humor to soften the horrors.

Is there nothing to complain about? Of course it is. The gets on your nerves from time to time. Powerful scenes don’t need powerful music and certainly not the kind that Angelo Badalamenti comes up with. Furthermore, it again appears that Audrey Tautou is anything but a character player, although you quickly forget that when you see those incredibly beautiful eyes. In addition, Jeunet occasionally loses himself in faintness and unnecessary fancy films.

In the end, those small hiccups do not mean that we are dealing with a particularly fine film. Less surprising but much more complete than ‘Amélie’, ‘Un long dimanche de fiançailles’ is a film that you should definitely see. And then you have to go straight to the bookstore to buy that equally beautiful novel. And that is indeed an order.

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