- A Very Long Search for a Loved One 12/21/2004 12:00:00 AM by lawprof
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in the hit, "Amelie," employed scintillating Audrey Tatou, the most expressive young French actress in film today, to portray a whimsical and charming girl-woman in search of love. With her now as a young French rural ingénue searching for years after The Great War (aka World War I or, even better, The War to End All Wars) for a probably killed fiancé, Jeunet crafted a moving, often penetrating story centering on the charnel carnage of trench warfare.
Lame as a single-digit-age child because of polio and living with relatives who took over after her parents were killed in an accident, Mathilde is befriended by Manech (Gasparad Ulliel). Mathilde, a loner separated from her peers by her disability, and Manech become closest friends. Late adolescence brings love and lust, commitment and an engagement.
But in 1917 the French Army needed fresh meat for the bloody maw that was warfare on the almost terminally static Western Front. And off went Manech along with many others who never returned.
Employing the harshest discipline of any Western army in modern history, the French Army (which gave the world the Dreyfus trial and in World War I actually used decimation to punish mutinous regiments and divisions) sentences Manech and four others to be cast into No Man's Land without weapons, without any possibility of being allowed to return but with the macabre requirement that they respond to morning roll call if alive (not a good bet). Their alleged crime was self-mutilation to get out of combat (what we call in the American military, "SIW," Self-Inflicted Wounds).
Mathilde in 1920, steely faithful in a moving and believable way, searches fervently for her fiancé whom she believes "must" be alive somewhere, somehow. Employing artful stratagems and enlisting the willing, the paid and the dragooned, her search takes her to cities and battlefields. With resort to a child's employment of magical thinking she frequently whispers tests about what will happen in immediate, ordinary circumstances with one result "proving" for her that Manech is still alive. Tatou makes this self-deception appealing and infinitely sad.
As Spielberg did in "Saving Private Ryan," Jeunet brings the immediacy of the meat-grinding battlefield to the viewer over and over again through superb if sometimes difficult to watch cinematography. Of course no film truly captures the desperation, the epidemic fatality that gripped and demoralized the French Army after years of immobile, set-piece fighting. One needs to read Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon for that. But Jeunet has brought to the screen the most realistic World War I trench scenes since "All Quiet on the Western Front" (the 1930 original, of course).
Tatou is an acting tsunami here, alternately beguiling and tense and always hopeful while fighting despair. Expect to see her in many fine roles in the future. She's marvelous.
The entire cast is excellent-few are known in the U.S.
A remarkable movie with an ending that will satisfy and disturb at the same time.
Tatou and Jeunet deserve Oscar nominations.
- Jaw Droppingly Wonderful 1/11/2005 12:00:00 AM by gort-8
This is one of those times that a rating system breaks down. I gave this film a "10" only because there were no "20's" available.
This film, in its own way, seems to be able to fire on those same diverse cylinders that William Shakespeare so often did. It's a light and airy comedy. It's the bitterest of tragedies. It's a beautiful romance. It's an unfolding mystery. At it's heart it is a film of war. War, in all its boiling chaos, touches on all those experiences and more.
When I left the theater I was both elated and depressed. My elation came from having just had such a pure cinematic experience. My depression came from glancing at the marquee and reminding myself that I'll have to survive on the sort of cinema half-life provided by the pablum that normally makes it to the screen. Every now and again it's great to be reminded just how good a movie can be.
- Brilliant 12/5/2004 12:00:00 AM by boboloco
This movie is better than "Amelie" (which I loved). The story is intricately plotted so people with a "Seed of Chucky" attention span will be overwhelmed. It must be the only movie to combine amazing combat scenes with romance, comedy and a complex mystery puzzle. Audrey Tatou is a goddess. Jeunet (the director) is like a combination of Chaplin (the romance and comedy); Hitchcock (the incredible camera work and storytelling); and Spielberg (the battle scenes and emotion).
As to some of the comments I have seen on this site:
There were French people complaining that people were speaking too fast. Gee, I don't speak French, but I can read subtitles just fine, so it was not a problem.
Some people complained that it was too long. Then there were people that complained it was too short. Like Goldilocks, I thought it was just right.
There were those that said that Tatou can't act. Audrey's performance was nuanced people, she's no Jim Carrey. Some said she was just playing Amelie again. Wrong. Amelie was a good-hearted but wishy-washy spirit who was afraid to take any action in her own life. Mathilde is just the opposite, somebody who believes so strongly in her convictions that she is able to follow what her heart tells her in spite of all available evidence and every single person she meets. In fact, every actor, no matter how small the role, turns in a great performance (I'm especially partial to the great Dominique Pinon, who plays Audrey's uncle).
There were complaints about the sex. There are a couple of brief shots of people having sex in the introduction, very similar to Amelie. Plus you get to see Jodie Foster doing the nasty from several directions. If that bothers you, go see Polar Express instead. Personally (especially in light of the rumors of Jodie being a lesbian) I am in favor of the sex scenes. There is also a shot of Audrey's fabulous naked booty, which justifies the price of admission all by itself.
Someone else complained that it was too jarring switching between the horrific WWI trench warfare scenes and the idyllic 1920s Paris. Argghhhh, that's the point!
Then there was the complaint about seeing a scene or shot from a different perspective later in the movie. Have you heard of a story called "Rashomon"? The idea is that you are experiencing the events from the viewpoint of different characters. This is cleverly done and never superfluous. At least one time you are quite startled by new information revealed by that shift in perspective.
All in all, this is a movie that really does have everything. If it were an American movie it would win best picture, best actress, best supporting actress (Jodie still might get nominated), best cinematography, best script from a novel, and best director. As it is scheduled for a Christmas national release, hopefully a lot of people will see it.
- Best movie this year 12/21/2004 12:00:00 AM by sam_perera
I had the pleasure of seeing this movie on a special preview last night and I was enthralled at its story line and cinematic experience. I wasn't a great fan of Amelie and hence was not expecting any particular out-of-body experience in viewing this. But I was wrong. It is a wonderful piece of story telling ? somewhat difficult to follow if you do have a short memory span for character names ? and flashbacks. Yet at the end, it seamlessly closes the web in a beautifully written script that has been well acted and filmed. It is particularly gory in the WWI battle scenes but probably accurate in depiction whilst the locations where the film was shot seem out of this world (hoped they were not computer generated). Quaint towns, fields, beaches and houses lend a beautiful touch to the story of a love that will not die whilst Audrey Tautou delivers a spellbinding performance in a child-like heroine with a will of steel. A special mention must be given to Bruno Delbonnel's camera work which simply is amazing. Can't wait for the DVD.
- an amazing movie.. 11/2/2004 12:00:00 AM by Libs
It is almost insulting to compare this film to Amelie Poulain. Yes it's the same crew, yes it's the same director and yes, Audrey Tautou almost plays the same character. But give JP Jeunet a break, it's part of HIS style. Would you blame Beethoven because his symphonies kinda sounded the same?
It is at times gritty, with its very tough depictions of the Great War, and at times light and naive. It all follows a very complicated storyline which is, I would have to admit, the only weakness in this otherwise perfect movie. With so many characters and so many plot elements, some people may feel a bit lost, specially toward the end. But this is of lesser concern as the audience will still follow the main idea : a quest to find a loved one. So even through all the intricacies of the subplots, the arc story (and its finale) always remain on the horizon.
To put it short, the movie is a masterpiece. The acting is strong, the scenes are breathtaking and overall, so much attention has been put to details that it feels like a labor of love more than a big production movie. I truly think that if French cinema was not so locked into producing crappy talkative movies about losers and failures, it could come up with a lot more movies as poignant as Engagement is.