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A Very Long Engagement DVD Review - -

Feature 9.0
Video 9.0
Audio 9.0
Special Features 9.0
Total 9.0
Distributor: Roadshow Home Entertainment
Running Time:
128 minutes
Rick Thorpe


A Very Long Engagement

The Movie

It's very hard not to recommend this movie to anyone who genuinely enjoys how enriching the movie experience can be. This film has everything that makes watching movies great, and I'd be hard up to find a more accessible foreign film that anyone can get something out of. First things first I guess, this is a movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, those reading this who are fans of his previous films will more than likely have already seen this as fans of Juenet (and Marc Caro's) movies know they'll be in for something special every time he sits in the directors chair. For those who aren't familiar with his work, then this is easily his most accessible and "traditional" movie thus far (with the exclusion of Alien 4).

Fans of foreign cinema are in for a treat here too, although more accessible, this is definitely a French film in its heart and even deeper it is definitely a Jean-Pierre Juenet film. At it's core A Very Long Engagement (AVLE) is a war/love story which crosses over many, many styles of films in its two hours plus length. It weaves a complex and detailed account of Mathilde, played beautifully well by Audrey Tatou, who's fiancé is summoned to the trench warfare of World War 1. The story kicks in with Mathilde's innate belief that her love is still alive despite the mountains of evidence set in her path that he is not. Its hard to go into the details of the plot without divulging and spoiling the story. The characters are weaved together in such an intricate way that in the beginning it can be a tad daunting.

Once you become accustomed to the reasonably large number of core members of
the cast, the movie settles into a very well conceived story that takes so many turns that the movie never, ever gets dull or turns ploddingly introspective for its duration.

The main reason for this is the absolutely fantastic cast. Jeunet's eye for casting characters who appear larger than life, yet totally believable, really comes into focus in AVLE. His previous movies had been very much single or dual character stories, but this movie requires so much background and development of technically secondary characters that a less than perfect cast would have made this movie fail on many levels. Audrey Tatou (Amelie from Amelie, Jeunet's previous film) is definitively cast as Mathilde, the story's main character. She's incredibly charming, pious, intelligent and sexy, often all in the same scene. This movie required a very special performance from the lead to work, and Tatou really plays Mathilde with aplomb.

The rest of the cast are full of familiar (an new) faces from Jeunet's previous movies, which makes for a very comfortable familiarity for fans of his previous movies. There's a reason why these faces turn up again and again in his movies and that's because they are able to be the kind of almost fairy tale characters that the movies he creates need to be populated by to fully convey the intricacies of the story and the characters themselves.

The characters populate a very impressively realised recreation of early 1900s France. From the gritty mud trenches of "Bingo Crepuscule" to the lush country seaside of Mathilde's home, to the bustling markets and city streets of Paris. The moods of these different locations are painted and captured to bring out the details that make them what they are. The constant damp and dirt of trenches rendered in a gray palette devoid of colours, contrasted by the sepia/yellow saturated pastoral scenes set the mood brilliantly. Jeunet's delicate eye for bringing out tiny details in his scenes makes for some very beautiful and almost painfully charming moments, throughout the movie.

The length of this movie didn't become an issue for me as the story never gets bogged down, I've seen too many war/romance movies that fall into a hole halfway through that makes the last hour seem like four or five. AVLE avoids this completely by keeping the pace moving very briskly. By the movie's end you'll wonder how the production staff managed to actually keep it to the length they did. The plot keeps you thinking, and characters keep you caring from start to finish, which is big enough accomplishment for a ninety minute movie, let alone this relative epic. Jeuenet crosses over into conspiracy/detective/war/drama/romance and a few other styles over the course of this film, which is what keeps the pace up, and combined with the cast, makes for very cohesive story that simply couldn't have been made this well by anyone else.


Presented on two discs AVLE provides a feast for the brain as well as the eyes and ears.


The 2.35:1 enhanced video transfer is free from any distracting artefacts or compression. The trench scenes are packed with detail that usually gets lost in a filtered colour palette and makes for a very claustrophobic and grim experience. The sepia tones of the other scenes contain a lot of warmth and mood, again free of the softness these filters sometimes have when transferred to DVD. This movie looks as it should when it should, the close up detail is fantastic and the long shots of the open French countryside are beautifully realised. This is a wonderful transfer that will suck you into AVLE's story from the first scene to the closing credits.


As with the video, the soundtrack is also of a very high standard. The French Dolby Digital 5.1 track (there is no English audio track) offers a wide sound stage that uses all the channels to make for an experience that's enveloping and immersive without being obtrusive or gimmicky. The trench warfare scenes make for a brilliantly brutal surround experience that will really push your home theatre system. The detail in the audio shines throughout, from the clarity and intimacy of Mathilde's conversations to the streets of Paris the DVD makes full use of the technology and adds much to the overall experience.


A wealth of extra's fill the second disc. "A Year At The Front" makes up the lion's share of content at 73 minutes long and shows the development of the film from the castings through to the special effects and cg. A few other vignettes go behind the scenes of specific set pieces in the film and there are also a batch of deleted/extended scenes that are accompanied by Jeunet's commentary. A fascinating and entertaining commentary from Jeunet accompanies the main feature on the first disc too. These all provide a very exhaustive supply of extras that will keep fans of the movie very entertained and show a great deal of insight into how meticulous Jeunet is in turning his vision of the story into an incredible film. All extras are in French language with English subtitles.


AVLE is a movie that succeeds on every single level a movie needs to. Its a charming and personal story that's full to the brim with colourful and  entertaining characters and beautifully photographed scenery. The story will make you keep your wits about you form beginning to end . The DVD presentation is near flawless and goes above and beyond the average transfer Region 4 foreign films usually receive. I recommend this movie to everyone who genuinely loves movies, if there was ever a movie designed for the person who wants the most out of their film experience, then this is it.


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