A definite depature for Jean-Pierre Jeunet after the bright, rich and colorful "Amelie", "A Very Long Engagement", somewhat like Jeunet's slightly underrated "Alien: Resurrection", uses Jeunet's extraordinary eye for visuals in order to keep compelling and visually dazzling subject matter that is decidedly more grim than his last outing.
The picture opens in 1920, with the war recently having come to an end. Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is stil missing her fiance, however, and although he may be dead, there are some indications that he may still be out there somewhere, and in need of help. As long as she feels that there is hope for Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) - who has been missing for three years - she will not rest. With the help of her aunt and uncle, she hires an investigator and goes about a journey to find what happened to her love.
Eventually she finds that her fiance and others got in severe trouble with the army for causing themselves injury in order to get out of battle. Although they were sentenced to death, Mathilde gets hints that the sentence wasn't carried out. The film makes for a very satisfying mystery/romance, as Jeunet's picture really does a nice job at giving out the facts little by little. Although the film isn't as heavy on the visuals as some of Jeunet's other pictures, the director's style here is elegant and graceful, with incredibly rich, gorgeous cinematography from cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. The film is full of remarkable compositions, gorgeous locations and stunning vistas.
The film's only real fault, in my opinion, is that it does go on a little too long. At nearly 150 minutes, the picture could have been trimmed by a good 15 or 20 to bring the pacing up a little bit. While the film never really drags, there are some moments where my interest could have been grabbed a little more intensely. Still, while some moments are a bit slow, the picture does have not only the visuals, but some very fine performances to offer. Tautou is once again bright eyes and perkiness, but she tones it down enough to fit terrifically into the tale. Supporting performances by Dominique Pinon, Jodie Foster (in a brief role, speaking French) and others are also first-rate.
"Very Long Engagement" could have been tightened a bit, but otherwise, it's a very moving and powerful mystery/drama from Jeunet, who once again offers a film with great visuals, despite having his usual style toned down a tad.
Note: The film is rated "R" for very graphic war scenes.
VIDEO: "Very Long Engagement" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation does have some issues - light edge enhancement and shimmering are visible in several scenes - but the majority of the picture looked crisp and clear, with no pixelation or print flaws.
Sharpness and detail were mostly exceptional, as the picture looked almost consistently well-defined, with only a couple of minor moments of softness in wide shots. The picture is mostly sepia-toned, but colors in general looked accurately portrayed to the intent of the cinematography. No smearing or other faults were spotted, either. Overall, while not perfect, this is mostly a fabulous effort.
SOUND: "Very Long Engagement" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, w/English subtitles). The soundtrack does turn aggressive during the war sequences, with surrounds kicking in for very detailed sound effects and ambience. These sequences offer very superb audio, but the quieter moments also offer nice layers of sound/ambience. The score works exceptionally we for the picture, and gets a fine spread across the front speakers. Dialogue seemed crisp, clear and well-recorded. Overall, very nice.
EXTRAS: On the first disc, we get a commentary from Jeunet, which is in French with English subtitles. There's also the film's trailer and a soundtrack promo.
The main supplement on the second disc is a "making of" documentary that lasts just about 75 minutes. The documentary goes trough jut about everything, from looking for locations, to some of the technical details and work to the day-to-day work on the shooting of the film. It's a fascinating and fun fly-on-the-wal piece that really gives a detailed look at how the film came to be. Also included on the second disc are featurettes about the blimp sequence and the Parisian scenes, as well as 14 deleted scenes with Jeunet commentary optional.
Final Thoughts: "Very Long Engagement" is another terrific outing for the pair of actress Tautou and director Jeunet after the successful "Amelie". Dark, but with lighter moments, this is a powerful and striking picture that should definitely be tried as a rental for those who haven't seen it. The DVD offers excellent audio/video quality and a very nice helping of supplements. Recommended as a purchase for fans of the film.