Film — A Very Long Engagement (R)

A Very Long Engagement (R)

by Amy Diaz

Audrey Tautou once more dons the chirpy mischievousness of her Amelie character for the soapy French love story A Very Long Engagement.

Ah, the French are so whimsical, so light-hearted with both life and death, so, well, French. At least the French in A Very Long Engagement seem to fulfill all the standard French clichés (at least, the more pleasant ones). The movie also fulfills quite a few of the romantic clichés — namely that a couple truly in love can’t ever really be separated even by death and that a spunky girl with polio will always triumph somehow.

You see, Mathlide (Tautou) may have to lug around a lame leg but that doesn’t stop her from traversing France in 1920 in search of her fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel). Sure, he was allegedly killed in 1917 but she believes in her heart he is still out there. And her belief may not be totally unfounded.

As the movie begins, we see Manech and four other men to their execution-by-German, the price they pay for self-mutilation as an attempt to get sent back home. The men are thrown out into no man’s land — certain to die and to spark a conflict between armies. Though there are reports of this one dying or that one being injured, no one seems to definitively be able to report the confirmed deaths of all five men. Mathlide finds a box full of their effects, many of which contain clues to friends, lovers and others who may know more about what happened in that particular trench.

She hires an energetic detective (Ticky Holgado) and attempts to trail one of the other men’s fiancée, a harder-edged version of herself named Tina (Marion Cotillard). Her investigation uncovers a variety of sub-plots surrounding the men, including a widow named Elodie (Jodie Foster) who may have lost two lovers in that particular episode of the war.

A Very Long Engagement is a very twisty tale that includes a variety of nooks and crannies, places where the buttery bittersweetness of this story pool without necessarily firming into deeper layers of plot. The turns provide their own amusement, a good thing to because at more than two hours the story needs more than its own steam to move forward. The movie twirls around a few of the central questions — what happened to Manech, which of the men lived, did the French president pardon them only to have an army official betray them — a dizzying number of times, leaving us occasionally whiplashed at who this mustachioed stranger is and which mysteries have been solved. In an attempt to make the movie lighter than air, it’s possible that the central romance was made a little too light; we see Mathlide’s dedication but we don’t feel much of the heat between her and Manech.

Sweet and sufficiently attention-holding, A Very Long Engagement has the lightness of a cream puff.

- Amy Diaz

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