A Very Long Trip.. For A Very Long Engagement

Ok, so it's not that long a trip, but Kelsey and I went out to Madison to see A Very Long Engagement, or as the French would say Un Long Dimanche de Fian├žailles, but since I don't speak French, and do not wish to butcher their language, I'll just use the English title, if you don't mind. It stopped playing here in Milwaukee about two weeks ago, just as I realized it was actually playing here. Luckily, since it's Oscar-nominated, Marcus Westgate Art Cinemas still had it, and I had a day off to make the trek. I make it sound like a journey of days, when it really just takes a little over an hour. Overdramatic.

Anyway, this was the movie to blow me away this Oscar season. Granted, I still have a couple to see, but last year when I saw In America, it left me wowed, and so did A Very Long Engagement. I told Kelsey I would vote for this film over any of the Best Picture noms (Ray, Finding Neverland, The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby & Sideways), and I stand by that remark upon further reflection. While Engagement did get a couple noms for Art Direction and Cinematography, both deserved, it didn't get a nom for Foreign Language Film, ala House of Flying Daggers, and I would have probably given some consideration to Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Best Director. But here I am on a tangent before I even get to the movie. Here we go.

Engagement is at first glance a war picture. It is violent on a Saving Private Ryan level, only in smaller doses. Even as the shells fall and the bullets fly by, though, a love story emerges, told mainly in flashback and fancy. Set in France circa World War I, it is the story of Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a polio-survivor orphan who searches relentlessly for her fiancee, a soldier reportedly executed at the front for mutilating himself in an attempt to be sent home. The film sets up each character's backstory, and then lets the mystery unfold: whether her Manech is really dead. While all evidence and popular opinion suggest she should give up hope, her relentless optimism and determination lead her closer and closer to the truth, good or bad.

Whether the film is good or bad is irrelevant to this fact: Audrey Tautou is adorable. She has a combination of talent and beauty that is probably unmatched by any American mainstream actress. OK, Natalie Portman comes close, although she can be wooden in the Star Wars films, which really is Lucas' fault. Sorry, Tim, it's true. Anyway, Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things, L'Auberge Espagnole, anything I've seen Audrey Tautou in, she's been amazing, and although I am worried about her Hollywood debut with The Da Vinci Code, I'll probably go see the movie just because she's in it. A Very Long Engagement is no exception. Her performance is both moving and subtle, a hard combination to pull off. This could have easily turned into a melodrama along the lines of Captain Corelli's Mandolin (crap) or Pearl Harbor (crap and a half), but a combination of Tautou's wonderfully understated performance and Jeunet's virtuoso direction kept Engagement a beautiful and unique snowflake. (Thanks, Tyler.)

Speaking of Jeunet, he again proves his genius, as previously evidenced in Amelie and City of Lost Children, and not so much evidenced in Alien: Resurrection. (All I can say about that is he didn't write the Resurrection script, blame Buffy creator Joss Whedon for that. Bastard.) Every frame of Engagement is interesting, photographed in a way that had me simultaneously amazed and jealous. It's a very, very pretty picture. His ensemble cast, including Jeunet regular and funny-looking guy Dominique Pinion, is perfectly at home in his vision of WWI France, and while the film retain's Jeunet's whimsical touches, it is firmly rooted in its historical reality.

Best of all, the film is subtle. The reason I have such a firm dislike for romatic comedies is that they tend to hit you over the head with their "message" over and over again. Example being Hitch (review coming soon), where it's a funny flick, but there is so many speeches and speeches and speeches about the nature of love and blah blah blah. Engagement shows you what love is, rather than just talk about it. The French know love. Americans know how to blow shit up. Sad but true.

Like I said before, I would vote for A Very Long Engagement for Best Picture, were I an Academy voter, and were it on the ballot. As it is, neither is true, so the best I can do it give it an A. I hope that helps. Call me, Audrey!


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