‘Amelie goes to war’ would be a terribly flippant way of describing this film, and yet with the same director teaming up with much of the same cast and crew, and with multiple recognisable film techniques being used – the comparison is partially justified. A Very Long Engagement (Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles) tells the story of a young woman named Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) who refuses to believe that her fiance Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) died in the Battle of the Somme. This belief sets her on a long investigation that ultimately highlights the savagery and insanity of the First World War.
From reading reviews at places such as IMDB, I’ve got the feeling that several people dislike the film’s overly stylistic approach, that the feel of the film is at times conflicted between being very serious, whilst also being reminiscent of Amelie’s joyful charm. I won’t deny that there is some truth to what they’re saying, but it didn’t really affect me; the brutality of the war scenes made it necessary to have something brighter to look forward to. And whilst we are on the topic, the battle and trenches scenes are the best thing about this film, they really deliver and don’t feel in any way exciting, but terrifying and horrific. They do exactly what they should.
The cast is another highlight. Audrey Tautou is great as the lead; always managing to convey very precise emotions in a utterly convincing way. Marion Cotillard has a small but pivotal role as a vengeful prostitute, and she does a good job with the time she has to work in. Jodie Foster also has a small role in this film, her mini story is both memorable and powerful. You almost wish that it could have been widened out so that we got to see more of it. The cast that make up the soldiers all do a great job , and whilst there is often not quite enough to easily differentiate between the key members, that’s more a fault of the film and not the performers. A great job is done across the board here.
My only real complaint with the film is that it’s not quite as emotionally affecting as it should be. I don’t quite know why this is, but it didn’t tug at my heart strings as much as it clearly was aiming to. That’s not to say that it didn’t affect me; the performances given, the story, the direction – they are all good. Perhaps its because of how complex Mathilde’s investigation becomes, somehow the really powerful emotions may become lost within that search. I’m not quite sure about that theory either though. The film still delivers; it’s beautiful to look at and horrific to consider, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite emotionally connect to the degree that it should.