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Heroes of the Zeroes: A Very Long Engagement

by on November 18, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“A Very Long Engagement”
Rated R

As French World War I soldiers shot their hands to escape battlefield insanity, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” clearly whittled away “Amelie’s” whimsy.

Save flatulent dogs and flamboyant postmen, Jeunet’s hellish, herky-jerky combat scenes put a damper on his Jacques Tati impulses.

Jeunet’s excess occasionally ran away from him (war’s absurdity was  hammered home long before a zeppelin explosion), and a flurry of details flirted with perilous confusion.

But 2004’s “Engagement” told a dark, engaging fairytale of epic emotions and scope, thanks to Bruno Delbonnel’s cream-soda cinematography and multitudes of memories, dreams, death and love. And if not “Amelie’s” manic energy, Jeunet returned to its muse, Audrey Tautou.

She’s Mathilde, a polio-afflicted Frenchwoman on a two-decade search for her fiancé, Manech — one self-mutilating soldier left to die in no man’s land as punishment.

Jeunet spins off Mathilde’s search — fueled by her insistence he’s still alive — into transfixing literary tangents about fate and the human condition. One of the best leads to Jodie Foster’s perfect-French cameo, as a wife whose soldier husband seeks her pregnancy as his parole from purgatory.

As in any fable, there are spires, towers and moats, and it’s a spellbinding saga — a true Danse Macabre choreographed by its romance’s throbbing heart. Mathilde and Manech’s love left its mark in many places,  so why not the grungiest and war-torn?

Into breaches of love and war we continuously go, regardless of safety, and “A Very Long Engagement” struck the crucial balance between the healing and horror of both.