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A Very Long Engagement

Based on a popular novel by French suspense author Sébastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagement is a different sort of a film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, City of Lost Children), but one that's still very much his handiwork. At its heart, it's a detective story — although it's also a lovely romance and a brutal war film, and often very, very funny. Amélie's Audrey Tautou stars as Mathilde, a young woman who irrationally believes that her reportedly dead childhood sweetheart, a 19-year-old infantryman named Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), was never really executed in 1917 after attempting to fake an injury to get out of duty. Living with her adoptive parents on the coast of Brittany, Mathilde doggedly seeks out the truth of what happened to Manech, which is revealed to us though gritty, unsparing flashbacks — as one of five soldiers who were sentenced for self-mutilation, Manech was sent out of the trenches to face German fire in the "no man's land" on the battlefield. However, as Mathilde seeks answers, someone else is seeking justice — the sister of one of the infantrymen is systematically killing the officers she holds responsible for her brother's death. Using many of the same digital techniques that made Amélie such a rich candy box of color, the "present-day" scenes of Mathilde's search are sumptuously beautiful, from the sepia-toned city scenes to jaunts through the palpably lush French countryside. Jeunet's painstaking recreations of the color-drained WWI battlefields are contrasted with his equally painstaking recreations of the opulent vegetable markets at Les Halles and the golden, idyllic Brittany coast, often colored to look like daguerreotypes or antique postcards. Mathilde is youthful but determined, very brave and almost magically propelled by her blind faith, given that it's almost certain that Manech is actually dead. As we experience A Very Long Engagement through her and grow to not only love her but share her journey of discovery, we so want her to be correct about Manech being alive that the film's last act becomes almost painfully tense — whether she will proven right or wrong is completely up in the air until the film's final frames, and Jeunet never gives away even a hint of how the mystery will resolve. Warner's two-disc DVD release offers a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One offers a terrific commentary track (in subtitled French) by director Jeunet. Disc Two offers a handful of marvelous "making-of" features, including "A Year at the Front," a lengthy (73 min.), fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary covering pretty much everything involved in making the movie. Also included are the featurettes "Parisian Scenes" (13 min.) and "Before the Explosion…" (12 min.), 14 deleted or extended scenes with optional commentary, and the theatrical trailer. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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