A Very Long Engagement is a very long movie. I’m fairly sure that it was as long as the actual duration of World War I. Maybe it just felt that way.
If you liked The English Patient, you will probably like this. Not because the plots are terribly similar, but because they both inhabit an odd and peculiar space: the chick flick war movie.
It is also a French chick flick war movie, which warns us that there is no good, no honor, no cause, and no beauty to be found in times of war. Take that for what it is worth.
It feels a little maudlin at times, but maudlin with real moments of humor. There are truly funny moments in this. I can still laugh about the running gag about the postal deliveryman and the cobblestones.
Although, without context, that just sounds kind of goofy, doesn’t it?
Audrey Tautou, as I have said before, is one of the finest actresses of the age, and remarkably beautiful as well. In A Very Long Engagement, we also find that she possesses a lovely bottom.
There are moments where the cinematography is worthy of being called art…
...Unhappily balanced by moments when the vignette techniques are distracting and obvious.
Jody Foster, in an extended cameo, plays the surprising role of a Polish woman living in France following World War I. She is outstanding--proving that even a small part can be made special by the right casting decision.
This is in no way a bad movie, just one that overstays its welcome with meandering story lines that take just a little too long to wrap up and a lack of emotional depth. I suppose that there is nothing easy about making a French chick flick war story with stirrings of a detective mystery.
Ultimately, the lack of emotional connection is what does this one in. While Jean-Pierre Jeunet style of intently quirky, self-conscious direction was perfect in Amelie, his previous outing with Tautou, it doesn’t work for a movie that needed more gravity. It ends up being too light to support the movie’s length and themes.
Bonus Point: One of the running bits through the film is the most intriguing. Tautou’s character has a tendency to make deals with fate. In one scene, she decides that if the dog comes in before supper is called, then her fiance is alive; in another, if the ticket agent on a train comes to collect her ticket before she counts to a certain number, then her fiance is alive. The attempts throughout to influence fate and maintain control when faced with the chaos of life is, maybe, the most interesting part of the whole film. Endearing, even.