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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The crew of Egg Drop Soup poses with director Yang (bottom, center).
SMU student film highlights the Chinese-American experience
Lexi Hodson, Contributor • May 16, 2024
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‘Engagement’ gets second glance, impresses

It has been more than a year since Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” was first released in America, and though the film earned two Oscar nominations and much critical acclaim, it went largely ignored by stateside audiences.

Thankfully, the 10th Annual SMU French Festival gave some of you one more chance to see it on the big screen, albeit the one in Hughes-Trigg Auditorium. Those who attended the screening probably share my astonishment that “A Very Long Engagement” has not achieved the popularity of the director and star’s previous collaboration, “Amelie,” which charmed the pants off half the country in 2001.

Perhaps the American appetite for French cinema has waned over the course of the freedom-frying Bush administration, but please, do not let subtitles or political prejudices deter you from this whimsical but devastating masterpiece. If you can drive a car and talk on the cell phone at the same time, you can handle subtitles.

In “A Very Long Engagement,” Tautou plays Mathilde, a polio-stricken young woman whose fiancee, Manech, has been sent off to the sludgy, rat-infested trenches of World War I. Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is one of five soldiers who have been court-martialed for self-mutilation. Each of the condemned soldiers wounded themselves in hopes of being sent home, but instead they find themselves being thrown over the trenches into no man’s land where, presumably, they will meet their grisly demise at the hands of German artillery and machine guns.

What really happens to the five soldiers once they enter no man’s land becomes something of a mystery, the unwinding of which comprises most of the film’s plot. Mathilde refuses to believe that her fiancee has been killed, and so employs a Private Eye (Ticky Holgado) and her own wiles to piece together Manech’s fate. The terrific thing about this storyline is how it allows the film to stray from the confines of the war movie genre.

“A Very Long Engagement” is in this sense a hybrid motion picture, shifting effortlessly between Sherlock Holmes-style detective work, battle scenes which rival anything in “Saving Private Ryan,” and the most affecting love story since “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jeunet pulling this off.

Each frame of the film is masterfully composed, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel moves the camera in vast, often stunning sweeps. The look of the film, along with every other production aspect, is immaculate. But this is to be expected with Jeunet at the helm. It is a unique gift to be able to create a film that, while technologically overwhelming, still manages to have heart and humanity shine through.

 

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