A Very Long Engagement

When I first saw the preview of this movie, I wanted to see it. Then in came the reviews. Some put it together with House of Flying Dagger, calling the director a ¡°show-off¡±, some called it Am¨¦lie Goes to War, some said it was very stylish but depressing or depraved of real content.

Amidst the noisy chatters, two things convinced me to see it. One, Terry Gross¡¯s interview of the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Two, dotann is also interested in seeing it at Cine Arts, Palo Alto Sqaure, her favorite theatre.

In addition to Palo Alto Square, there are two other Landmark theatres in Palo Alto. I used to go to them regularly, seeing artsy fartsy movies after work. I often went alone. I got laughed at a few times because I went to theatres alone. I shrugged it off. What¡¯s wrong with seeing a movie alone? It is such a personal experience. No matter how many people you went with, you all sat in the darkness, alone. I always enjoyed the long drive home afterwards, when I could digest what I had just witnessed, experienced. As the years go by, I found out that having someone to go to the movie with is more a motivation. Kind of like going to the gym. 🙂

Back to ¡°A Very Long Engagement¡±.

It was a relief that it didn¡¯t much resemble Amelie, which I wasn¡¯t impressed with. I never understood the big fuss around Amelie. I think the director was too obsessed with packing the movie full of cuteness. The result is a surrealistic thing that only went skin deep in my heart. I saw, I laughed, and then I promptly forgot about it.

As for the critic who put ¡°A Very Long Engagement¡± side by side with ¡°House of Flying Dagger¡±, I don¡¯t know what he was smoking. If we are only looking at these two movies on their own, Zhang Yi-Mou might as well bow down and kiss Jean-Pierre¡¯s feet. There was no comparison.

Amelie is a lighthearted sappy romantic comedy. A Very Long Engagement is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. It is heavy, sad, and right in your face reality that could suffocate you in your seat. A few times I wanted to avert my eyes, enough is enough. I¡¯ve had enough. The detailed narrative was like a cold and powerful hand clutching my nuts slowly but surely ripping it apart. Not just the French side, but the German side, also. I do appreciate the little tale told by a German soldier¡¯s sister, how the Germen were equally torn when the MMM carving cornflower was hurt.

House of Flying Dagger was as empty as a dead seashell pushed up by the wave, with no meaningful content to speak of. A Very Long Engagement¡¯s story line was not just complicated but gripping. A mystery slowly being solved, while so many people were involved and so many side stories were being developed simultaneously. The meticulously laid out clues and the tidy closure of each and everyone of those leads together waved an intricate net of stories. They, as a whole, showed not just the long engagement between Mathilde and Manech, but the long lasting sorrow WWI had spread on that ancient continent. No wonder Europe so united against war, any war, nowadays.

Last but not the least; the stunning cinematography was the fluid and stylish wave that carried the whole movie along. There was one particular moment I couldn¡¯t get out of mind. It was in the beginning of the movie. One of the five condemned prisoners was a farmer. As Mathilde¡¯s narrative voice introduced him, the camera showed he rode a horse (or was it a donkey?) cart with his wife. Golden hay was piled high on the cart. Neatly stacked. Mathilde¡¯s voice suddenly trailed off, we saw two officers stood waiting a few hundred yards down the country road. They were there to take him to war. Camera moved from the back of the farmer¡¯s donkey cart to the back of the officers, we saw a wind suddenly materialized from the bottom of the screen where the officers stood, the wind swept through all the golden fields surrounding them. In the distance, we saw the farmer stopped his cart, at that exact moment the wind had swept up the screen, reached his cart. All the hays on his cart started to fly in the wind¡­

How vivid it was, to see those golden hays flying everywhere. A neat and well organized life suddenly was broken into pieces, swept away by the whirlwind of war¡­

One final observation. I’ve never been to Brittany but had heard plenty of it. If the scenary captured by this film is in anyway the real Brittany, then it is very much like the coast of American Northwest. The sea stacks, the endless wind, the low-growing vegetations hugging the large boulders by the ocean. Made me want to go there and try to climb some rocks. 🙂

One thought on “A Very Long Engagement

  1. Hi, Jean:

    Give u a big hug. Strangely, we have so much in common… I shared the same thoughts with u on going to the movie alone(especially the artsy one, not for the Big-budget Hollywood movie) and the change of that as years passed by, feeling so so with Amelie (I rent the DVD from Blockbuster just a few months ago after hearing so much about it, and I even could not finish watching it!). I abosutely hated “House of Flying Dagger” and “Empty and Stupid” won’t be harsh for this one.
    I have not seen the “A very Long Engagement”,but I definitely check it out. I love Landmark theatres and luckily I have three of them close-by. Too bad that they don’t offer student discount.

    I know I am echoing your feelings like a ardent pursuer,:-) anyway, really like your little space in the web.


    Jean’s Reply:
    🙂 Thank you!
    Landmark theatres here has a “bulk ticket” option. YOu can buy five tickets at once, for the price of 30+ dollars. You may use the ticket for any show in any Landmark theatre, within the next 3 months (i think). It is a good deal if you can’t always make it to their bargain shows. And if you see enough artsy movies within a set period.

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