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"A Very Long Engagement"

Jeunet festoons this tale of true love with cartoonish Frenchmen, killer prostitutes and cases of amnesia. We yearn to go back to the fighting, where the stylistic master is at his best in shots that slog through the rainy mud of the front lines. This war footage is as blue and grim as any, and it also contains an undercurrent of capriciousness and black humor unique to the Great War. Paris likewise gets an appropriate touch-up in somber amber.

The problem is in knowing what to respond to. "A Very Long Engagement" is Jeunet's biggest and most serious subject to date, but that doesn't stop him from pulling the cinematic gags he used to embellish his more whimsical projects. Between the scenes of trench warfare, we get a fair share of wild pans, rapid flashbacks and other clever devices, along with many of the same kinds of silly cartoon characters from "Amélie" and "The City of Lost Children." This awkward schism causes "A Very Long Engagement" to fall between its own front lines, a gritty, admirable war movie and a nonsense love story that is just irritating. — Wayne Melton



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