Seattle Maggie could not help noticing that A Very Long Engagement has been enjoying a, well, very long engagement at the Egyptian. It has playing for at least a month and a half, which seems like eons for a theater with only one screen. Luckily, this gave us the opportunity to actually get ourselves together to see it, which was much harder than it should have been for a theater that is literally just around the corner from our apartment. Inspired by the recent post of EW’s list of 2004 movies to see, we made our way to a lonely matinee; we were hoping to redeem ourselves as a serious filmgoer after an embarrassing incident in which we snickered at an inopportune moment during The House of Flying Daggers (somehow, Eddie Murphy’s tiny dragon from Mulan kept shrieking in our head, “They popped out of the snow! Like daisies!” and we couldn’t help ourselves. We are so sorry.)
A Very Long Engagement once again pairs that magical couple from Amélie, leading lady Audrey Tautou and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. In the aftermath of World War I, Mathilde (Tautou) is searching for her missing fiancé Manech, who had been sentenced to death for the crime of self-mutilation in order to escape the fighting. As no one actually saw Manech die, Mathilde becomes convinced that he is still alive and sets out to investigate, despite the fact that the last place he was seen alive was the dreaded No Man’s Land between the French and German trenches. Add a polio limp, a vengeful prostitute, a witty private investigator, an eccentric aunt and uncle, a tuba, a flatulent dog and a naked Jodie Foster, and you have a film that careens from gentle quirkiness to stark devastation with very little breathing room between the two.
We always has time for films by Jeunet, which include the midnight movie classics The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, as well as the better-than-the-third-one Alien: Resurrection. It’s always a good time playing the “Find Dominique Pinon” game, the distinctively craggy-jawed homme being one of the best character actors out there, and we do find Tautou captivating, especially once we got over her slightly creepy, beady-eyed Amélie poster. So we hope that no one will be offended if we quote Cher from Moonstruck, and say: “That was so awful.”
Like the opera, the film is so big, so powerful, so awful in its themes that it becomes more than a story. War is not just bad, it is a gray horror that whistles through the air and disintegrates hapless souls before your stunned eyes. Love is not just good, it is a magical force that transcends reason, logic and fate. This extravagant method may not sit well for some viewers. In one scene, an ill wind ripples through the wheat as the government men approach to draft a man to fight; we heard someone snort disbelievingly behind us because of the thin line that it treaded between beautiful metaphor and outrageous cliché. Seattle Maggie, however, tends to err on the side of grand gestures, and we had ourselves a good cry at the truly bittersweet ending. We were especially affected by the film’s treatment of the raw ugliness and absurdity of war. The fact that someone somewhere once thought that ordering men to run straight at a machine gun was a good idea has always rankled at our good sense. The scene in which Mathilde and a German woman meet in a café bathroom seems to encapsulate how Jeunet feels about it all; when all the explosions and haughty posturing of nations is through, all that is left are two grieving people washing their hands and apologizing for their respective countries.
Oh dear. At least this time that pert little voice in our head kept quiet until after the credits finished rolling. All we have to say is this: Maybe a dingo ate your fiancé? That’s it – Seattle Maggie is officially not allowed back into the movies until we really, really think about what we’ve done.Posted by seattle maggie at January 28, 2005 6:54 AM