Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
As French World War I soldiers shot their hands to escape battlefield insanity, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement clearly whittled away Amélie’s whimsy.
Save for 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 Amélie’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.