Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review: A Very Long Engagement

In general, the only kind of war movie I end up loving is one that isn't really about war. Yes, even the movies that are 90% shoot-'em-ups attempt to draw larger conclusions about things beyond war, but most of them are just a different kind of action adventure movie.

It's taken me a while to see the latest from the director of Amelie -- Jean-Pierre Jeunet -- but I'm glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and saw A Very Long Engagement. (Some reviews had warned of a violence that at times bridges on the grotesque.) Whatever blood is spilled and human damage portrayed feels worth it in the service of such a wonderful transporting tale about love and a deep intuition that a quest is not over, even when all signs point otherwise.

Audrey Tautou, who is fast becoming one of the most recognizable French actresses on our shores, does a fantastic job, evoking some of the charm she brought to Amelie, but also drawing up her face to show a mix of young wisdom and unjaded determination on a level deeper than that previous Jeunet role. Jodie Foster makes an appearance in the movie, too, speaking like a native, as she's been fluent in French since 14. To call her role a cameo is to give her short shrift, but she is one of the more captivating people that Tautou's character meets on the protracted journey to find her fiance.

What I liked best, besides the stunning cinematography and captivating settings, was how Jeunet manages to portray the violence of war and its aftermath with a keen eye for detail and a knowledge of just how much is necessary to reveal the horror without overdoing it. Beyond the trenches, there are many other scenes of beauty, and perhaps they are even more attractive for their contrast to the war flashbacks.

The ending is duly satisfying, but also one of those that is exquisitely restrained. If the film has worked its magic, you are left imagining what happens next.

Which I always find to be a powerful way to feel at the end of a narrative -- one that can be at its heart a gift to the viewer or reader. Because, in actuality, those fellow humans who conceived the work might never have gotten that far. (They didn't have to.) So you are left with your imagination. You are left to take what was theirs and make it your own, if only for a few minutes as the credits roll.

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