December 25, 2004

MOVIES: A Very Long Engagement (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004)

A Very Long Engagement is a gorgeous production, but all the effort is wasted in service of a story that starts off dull and only gets more so as the movie plods along.

Audrey Tautou stars as Mathilde, whose childhood sweetheart and fiance, Manech, is reported dead during World War I. Mathilde, being the insufferable romantic that she is, refuses to believe that Manech is dead -- "Oh, if he were truly dead, I would know it in my heart!" and such twaddle -- and sets out to find him.

The story of what really happened to Manech isn't laid out very clearly, and Mathilde's progress from one clue to the next is a murky mess. None of the people involved are likable or interesting, including Mathilde, and we don't see enough of Manech (there are a few flashbacks) to have any real rooting interest in his survival beyond Mathilde's own obsessive quest.

The sets and costumes are gorgeous, and a few of the movie's visuals -- a shot of rows of crosses in a military cemetery, a zeppelin explosion -- are dazzling; if that's enough for you, you might enjoy A Very Long Engagement. But if you want interesting characters, a gripping story, or coherent storytelling, look elsewhere.

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