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A Very Long Engagement

True love never dies

In A Very Long Engagement, visionary French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet seduces and bombards viewers with a poetic arsenal of mournful, dreamlike imagery that rivals, if not exceeds, the imagination of Tim Burton and the craftsmanship of Francis Ford Coppola, yet ultimately fails to communicate fully the love, pain, and suffering of its heroine, which are trammeled by the film's rich visual tapestry and lack of traditional plot, character, and theme development.

Based on the best-selling novel by Sébastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagement features googly-eyed Audrey Tautou as Mathilde, a young woman determined to find her childhood sweetheart and fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), who is said to have been killed near a desolate trench nicknamed Bingo Crépuscule on the front lines of World War I, but who, Mathilde staunchly believes, may miraculously still be alive.

The action largely shuttles back and forth in time and place between an idyllic hamlet on the coast of Brittany, where the orphaned, polio-inflicted Mathilde lives with relatives, the gruesome carnage of the mud- and corpse-filled trenches on the Somme front line, and the hustle and bustle of an imaginary Paris for which Jeunet and his trusted collaborators recreated in lush digital detail such lost landmarks as the old Trocadéro, Les Halles, and the Gare d'Orsay.

The visual splendor with which Jeunet embellishes Japrisot's Rashomon-style narrative is as rich in detail as the cast of characters that populate Jeunet's somber World War I romance with their idiosyncratic quirks and stories that leave Mathilde puzzled and hopeful about the fate of her true love.

Like Jeunet's previous films -- most notably the post-apocalyptic Delicatessen, the awe-inspiring City of the Lost Children, and the charming Amélie -- A Very Long Engagement is first and foremost a feast for the eyes; everything is meticulously designed, arranged, plotted, illuminated, and captured on film. The artificial imagery and personal tone that characterize the surreal charm of his previous films, however, feel somewhat displaced in the trenches of a World War I battlefield. Extremely ambitious and romantic in its subject matter and execution, A Very Long Engagement is also disappointingly tepid and exhausting in its precious epic sweep.

3.5 out of 5 stars