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DVDTalk Review of A Very Long Engagement

Old 07-13-05, 03:46 PM
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DVDTalk Review of A Very Long Engagement

"In the hands of any other director, the jarring stylistic jumps between sepia-toned vignettes of sun-kissed young love and starkly graphic images from deep within the bitterly cold trenches of World War I-era France would be not only unbearable but confusing."-- DVDTalk Reviewer Preston Jones

I'd have to assume you haven't yet seen Kinji Fukasaku's Under the Flag of the Rising Sun. Not only does Under the Flag have a similar narrative structure and not only does it have many alarmingly similar plot points, but it was made 32 years prior to A Very Long Engagement.

I've seen both of these films and, though they are very different thematically, I much prefer Fukasaku's film (and for the record, I am a very big Jeanet fan and A Very Long Engagement was my favorite film of 2004). I urge anyone interested in AVLE to at least give Under the Flag of the Rising Sun a shot.
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Old 07-15-05, 12:50 AM
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Originally Posted by mifuneral
"In the hands of any other director, the jarring stylistic jumps between sepia-toned vignettes of sun-kissed young love and starkly graphic images from deep within the bitterly cold trenches of World War I-era France would be not only unbearable but confusing."-- DVDTalk Reviewer Preston Jones
Funny, because that's just how it felt to me. How are we expected to be engaged in the this romance when the director keeps slipping in scene after scene of gratuitous violence-- every time someone talks about a solider being killed, we quickly cut back to the war and see it for ourselves for no particular reason. That's just the beginning of how manipulative the movie is. The story revolves around the romance, but it's all superficial. Jeunet tries to coax you into thinking its real by relying on the character's circumstances and the cinematography, and little romantic scenes thrown in here and there that have no place. I'm guessing they were going for some kind of a documentary style of editing, and it just comes off as annoying and illogical. We keep going from scene to scene without taking a break, there's no time to let the viewer absorb the details of the plot.

My biggest problem though is that there's no character in this movie. Just about everyone in it is one dimensional. Once we get through about an hour of exposition, all we learn about Audrey Tautou's character is that she has polio and is looking for her fiance'. And we learn even less about her fiance'. I don't mean to offend anyone who liked this movie, but there's no way I would say it's well done. It's artificial and sloppy filmmaking. Sorry for the rant.
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Old 07-15-05, 02:43 AM
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Actually your rant is not far off base and is probably not in the minority. However, it's been awhile since I've seen A Very Long Engagement so I'll have to think on this some more. But that seems to be something of Jeunet's style. The characters in City of Lost Children and Delicatesson are also somewhat one dimensional in that they are characters, not necessarily people. If that makes any sense. It's like they're constructs built around idiosyncracies-- they are very interesting to look at but very difficult to relate to.
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Old 07-15-05, 06:41 PM
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Jeunet's style is hardly "illogical" or "sloppy". He simply has a different storytelling style than you may be used to. His movies are focused less on character and more on circumstance.
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Old 07-15-05, 07:47 PM
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This was the first film i've seen from him so i'm not aware of his style, but that's irrelevant anyway. I wouldn't be bringing up the issues I did if they weren't what was keeping me from enjoying the movie. As far as him focusing more on circumstance than character, i'm ok with that, but this film needs character to drive the circumstance--why should anyone care if these two are reunited at the end if they don't care about them to begin with?
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Old 07-15-05, 10:17 PM
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Whatever. Wasn't your type of movie.

Moving on...
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Old 07-16-05, 01:02 AM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
why should anyone care if these two are reunited at the end if they don't care about them to begin with?
Kind of a good point, but it's just sort of a cultural thing I think. Not surprising that the theme of this particular movie is romance and the literary romantic inclinations considering it's French. You care about them because they are in love, plain and simple. Or, that's the theory. It only works if you "believe in the power of love" I suppose.
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Old 07-16-05, 01:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
Jeunet's style is hardly "illogical" or "sloppy". He simply has a different storytelling style than you may be used to. His movies are focused less on character and more on circumstance.
Ellaborate, please. Though I happen to love Jeunet's works, I hardly find anything convincing in your dismissive comments. How is a director simply being "different" eliminate him from being illogical or sloppy? Are you simply trying to deflect all negative comments due to your own love of his work or do you have anything productive to add?
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Old 07-16-05, 10:46 AM
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I honestly don't feel that the movie needs that much defending. None of DVD King's arguments hold any water.

Yes, the movie has contrasting scenes between the horrors of war and the beauty of love. Why is that illogical? Because DVD King says it is? Seems to me like there's a perfectly sound logic at work in the film's construction. He may not like it, but that doesn't make it bad or "sloppy".

The characters are not one-dimensional. They are archetypes. In a Jeunet film, the characters are defined by their circumstances. The world he places the people in is as much of a character as the people themselves.

This isn't the way that Hollywood movies tell their stories, but that hardly makes the film bad just because it's different.
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Old 07-16-05, 12:50 PM
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A film "supposedly" about World War I being told in the manner of a fairy tale isn't what I would call logical. It wouldn't have bothered me so much if Jeunet used the war for something more than serving the premise and glalmorizing the romance between the two characters. It comes off as highly manipulative, especially when we're seeing bodies explode-- for what? Jeunet simply doesn't have any restraint. If this is just how he makes movies then he definitely chose the wrong one to do.

I'll allow what you said about the characters being archetypes, but I don't know how you can say that they're not one-dimensional too. The film moves quickly from one set of characters to the next without us knowing anything more about them than some quirky thing that they do. Two hours of going from one shallow character to the next may have its place in serving the directors style, but I wouldn't call it good filmmaking. Maybe you're too attached to his style to differentiate between the two.

Ultimately though I realize this just may not be my type of movie. I'm not trying to push conventionalism, but like I said, these things kept me from enjoying it. I just came in here to give my impressions after my expectations were let down.
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Old 07-16-05, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
A film "supposedly" about World War I being told in the manner of a fairy tale isn't what I would call logical. It wouldn't have bothered me so much if Jeunet used the war for something more than serving the premise and glalmorizing the romance between the two characters. It comes off as highly manipulative, especially when we're seeing bodies explode-- for what? Jeunet simply doesn't have any restraint. If this is just how he makes movies then he definitely chose the wrong one to do.

I'll allow what you said about the characters being archetypes, but I don't know how you can say that they're not one-dimensional too. The film moves quickly from one set of characters to the next without us knowing anything more about them than some quirky thing that they do. Two hours of going from one shallow character to the next may have its place in serving the directors style, but I wouldn't call it good filmmaking. Maybe you're too attached to his style to differentiate between the two.

Ultimately though I realize this just may not be my type of movie. I'm not trying to push conventionalism, but like I said, these things kept me from enjoying it. I just came in here to give my impressions after my expectations were let down.

1. Did Forest Gump bother you in any way? As I clearly see that the Vietnam War was used as a premise to build upon...a supposedly engaging comedy/satire? It never really worked for me, yet it seems like it did for a lot of people, including many on this forum. Clearly glamorizing the stupidity of one person, among falling bombs and bodies being torn apart comes off as highly manipulative.

2. One-dimensional characters have been tolerated by European cinema for a long time, and it appears that you are regarding it as a "fault" which in my opinion is not. Fellini's Roma is the perfect example.

3. I think that you are clearly trying to impose the "conventional" type of storytelling, or perhaps I should say the Hollywood stereotype of transparent, easy, predictable, and often brainless type of character as the standard here. Which in fact this film succeeds in quite well as it is one of the most obvious examples of French cinema gone mainstream (Hollywood) style.


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Old 07-16-05, 01:39 PM
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I saw Forrest Gump far too long ago to know exactly what you're talking about, but I don't know what your point is-- so the two films are similarily popular and yet manipulative, or what?

I have no problem with one-dimensional characters whatsoever, if they are used right. I haven't seen Roma, but i'm sure Fellini knew what he was doing. The problem with this film is that the type of story doesn't lend itself well to that use of character-- I honestly don't know how anyone could stay awake if there wasn't a war scene with fantastic imagery every twenty minutes to wake you up.

Originally Posted by pro-bassoonist
3. I think that you are clearly trying to impose the "conventional" type of storytelling, or perhaps I should say the Hollywood stereotype of transparent, easy, predictable, and often brainless type of character as the standard here.
This came out of no where, since when does asking that the characters have depth also constitute them being transparent hollywood stereotypes.
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Old 07-16-05, 04:02 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
...

I have no problem with one-dimensional characters whatsoever, if they are used right.....
Right...according to what criteria...yours?

Originally Posted by DVD King
...
...This came out of no where, since when does asking that the characters have depth also constitute them being transparent hollywood stereotypes.

I tried to point your attention to the fact that you are criticizing the film based on what you think constitutes a quality production, character(s), etc...and by doing so you refer to conventional type of storytelling (alas reassuring yourself that you are not trying to push "conventional storytelling" which in fact you do)...something most people associate with Hollywood. With this said I think that Josh was trying to point out to you that perhaps the aspects of the film that left you unsatisfied are what the director was aiming for.

I am not attempting to change your impression of the film (or evaluation...) but the way in which you expressed yourself criticizing elements of the film that you deemed "manipulative", "glamorizing", "one-dimensional", etc...makes it look like the director failed completely.

And since you don't remember Forest Gump and have not seen Fellini's Roma there is no point of me drawing parallels between those productions attempting to show why I replied to your initial criticism.


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Old 07-16-05, 05:43 PM
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I realize that the director could have and probably was aiming for archetypal characters, but that doesn't save him from my criticism. Sidney Lumet once said that the best style is style unseen-- he's referring to how films should be made to serve the purpose of the story. Jeunet seems to do the opposite of that and find stories that serve his own stylistic purposes. And I don't really mean style, he's more of what Lumet would call a decorator. Not to say there's no room for experimentation, by any means, but I would call his film a misfire.

If I come off as conventional, it's only because I wanted the film to be better-- to have substance instead of being hollow. Whatever his methods, that's how it felt to me and is the basis for my criticism.
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Old 07-16-05, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
Sidney Lumet once said that the best style is style unseen-- he's referring to how films should be made to serve the purpose of the story. Jeunet seems to do the opposite of that and find stories that serve his own stylistic purposes.
Well, that does it then. There's only one "correct" way to make a movie, and that's Sidney Lumet's way. He must truly be the wisest filmmaker who ever lived. Maybe I should revisit "A Stranger Among Us". Isn't he doing a lawyer movie with Vin Diesel right now?

Of course, I joke, because I like Sidney Lumet, or at least I did before he went so far over the hill. But this implication that there is only one correct method of filmmaking is ridiculous. How would the films of Fellini or Bergman or Cocteau or Hitchcock or Lean or Kubrick or any other director with a strong personal style fit into Lumet's theory of filmmaking? Are they all useless hacks?

Originally Posted by DVD King
A film "supposedly" about World War I being told in the manner of a fairy tale isn't what I would call logical.
Again, why not? Because you don't like it, that's why? Sorry, not every movie can please every viewer, and this one obviously wasn't for you.

Last edited by Josh Z; 07-16-05 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 07-16-05, 11:37 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
Sidney Lumet once said that the best style is style unseen-- he's referring to how films should be made to serve the purpose of the story.

And Hitchcock once said: "I'm nor concerned about the story, I'm concerned about how do I surprise/scare the viewer."

There isn't one single magic formula when it comes to filmmaking and thank god for that.
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Old 07-17-05, 12:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
Well, that does it then. There's only one "correct" way to make a movie, and that's Sidney Lumet's way... But this implication that there is only one correct method of filmmaking is ridiculous. How would the films of Fellini or Bergman or Cocteau or Hitchcock or Lean or Kubrick or any other director with a strong personal style fit into Lumet's theory of filmmaking? Are they all useless hacks
Did you even read what I had said after that? I have no problem with experimentation-- but Jeunet's film is self indulgent and a misfire. And Sidney Lumet's "way" of filmmaking, where the film should first and foremost serve the purpose of telling the story, is just about as general as it comes, yet you make me out to be someone who's creating strict guidelines for how a film should be made. I agree that saying there's only one "correct" way is ridiculous.

Originally Posted by Josh Z
Again, why not? Because you don't like it, that's why?
No, because it doesn't work. Jeunet apparently tries to do here what he did with Amiele. His light and sweet, fairy tale style is incongruous with the story being told. You may not see that, but to the uninitiated (like me), it doesn't work.

I'm not trying to take away anyone's enjoyment of the film. I was just interested in learning how and why people thought it was so well done, a masterpiece even-- which I say it's far from.
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Old 07-17-05, 12:17 AM
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Originally Posted by eXcentris
And Hitchcock once said: "I'm nor concerned about the story, I'm concerned about how do I surprise/scare the viewer."

There isn't one single magic formula when it comes to filmmaking and thank god for that.
No kidding. I think your quote though is out of context.


EDIT: Am I really the only one here who can find fault with this film? People on these message boards have no problem tearing apart a much simpler, and less manipulative movie like Million Dollar Baby--yet when it comes to this one, it appears to be all one-sided.

Last edited by DVD King; 07-17-05 at 12:27 AM.
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Old 07-17-05, 01:31 AM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
Am I really the only one here who can find fault with this film?
No! I actually went on record above stating that I disliked it though for other reasons. Either way it is far from being a failure. In fact, the film was structured in a way that would appeal to as many as possible (read...international audiences) and judging from the results so far...box-office, critics, Cesar, etc., I believe it accomplished its goal.

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Old 07-17-05, 11:34 AM
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Originally Posted by DVD King
No, because it doesn't work.
There's an important distinction you're failing to make. It didn't work for you, which is not the same thing as saying that it doesn't work at all.
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Old 07-17-05, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
There's an important distinction you're failing to make. It didn't work for you, which is not the same thing as saying that it doesn't work at all.
I don't see how that's different than saying it works for you, and therefore works completely. You seem to be quite familiar with his style, so who's to say that never became an issue for you while you were watching it.

I'm not going to argue the point any further. I've only seen it once from a rental. I'll agree it's not my movie, but I haven't been persuaded that it's something that I should somehow respect.

Last edited by DVD King; 07-17-05 at 12:39 PM.
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Old 07-20-05, 04:56 PM
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I totally agree with Josh Z and Pro-B... I loved it... I do agree that it had slightly less "style" or "soul" that the director has put into his other movies... is it because he's trying to be more mainstream? Is he slipping a bit? I dunno... My wife and I immensely enjoyed watching it. I would rate this just slightly below some of his other recent works, but that's similar to me commenting about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being the "worst Tim Burton movie ever"... it was still up and above many other films that I watched this year
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Old 07-23-05, 12:23 AM
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Originally Posted by mifuneral
"In the hands of any other director, the jarring stylistic jumps between sepia-toned vignettes of sun-kissed young love and starkly graphic images from deep within the bitterly cold trenches of World War I-era France would be not only unbearable but confusing."-- DVDTalk Reviewer Preston Jones

I'd have to assume you haven't yet seen Kinji Fukasaku's Under the Flag of the Rising Sun. Not only does Under the Flag have a similar narrative structure and not only does it have many alarmingly similar plot points, but it was made 32 years prior to A Very Long Engagement.

I've seen both of these films and, though they are very different thematically, I much prefer Fukasaku's film (and for the record, I am a very big Jeanet fan and A Very Long Engagement was my favorite film of 2004). I urge anyone interested in AVLE to at least give Under the Flag of the Rising Sun a shot.

Thanks for the recommendation. I really loved A Very Long Engagement and will have to check out the movie you speak about.
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Old 07-25-05, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by mifuneral
I'd have to assume you haven't yet seen Kinji Fukasaku's Under the Flag of the Rising Sun. Not only does Under the Flag have a similar narrative structure and not only does it have many alarmingly similar plot points, but it was made 32 years prior to A Very Long Engagement.

I've seen both of these films and, though they are very different thematically, I much prefer Fukasaku's film (and for the record, I am a very big Jeanet fan and A Very Long Engagement was my favorite film of 2004). I urge anyone interested in AVLE to at least give Under the Flag of the Rising Sun a shot.
thanks for the recommendation -- i will be checking it out.
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