Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) searches for her fianc?Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), who has seemingly disappeared without trace in the trenches of the Somme during WWI. Love blooms amongst the horrors and carnage of war and Mathilde refuses to believe that her beloved, one of five men missing, is dead. She knows in her heart she will find him alive.

This is the underlying premise of A Very Long Engagement (Un Long Dimanche De Fian?lles), the latest film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who found world-wide acclaim with his previous film, Am?e.

A Very Long Engagement is an audacious, funny and, at times, absurd take on the epic themes of love and war. WWI is an entrenched part of the psyche and history of the French for good reason and, even though years have passed, the consequences of the war are still ever-present.

In 1990 Bertrand Tavernier explored love and the impact of WWI on women looking for lost loved ones in Life And Nothing But. The same theme is again echoed in A Very Long Engagement.

Jeunet is a 50-year-old self-taught French director who started making television commercials in 1984 before collaborating on several award-winning shorts with Mark Caro and making his film debut in 1991 with the deeply quirky Delicatessen. Since then he has made several films, including The City Of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection. All his French films feature signature eccentricities, such as a cast filled with distinctly unusual faces and body shapes, story-book cinematography and wide camera angles. A Very Long Engagement also shares these features, though at times oddly juxtaposed with the epic themes.

This is the second time the elfin, gorgeous Audrey Tautou, the star of Am?e, has graced a Jeunet film and she again brings a unique kookiness to her role where, when she is not looking for her man, she is seeking solace by playing the tuba by the sea in Brittany.

Jodie Foster makes her French film debut as Elodie Gordes, one of the missing men’s wives. Naturally her French is excellent and although the role is small, Jodie, who is quite elfin herself, makes a significant contribution to the film.

The cast includes Dominique Pinon and other regulars such as Ticky Holgado (who has since died) and Tch? Karyo as well as Julie Depardieu, 30-year-old daughter of G?rd.

Angelo Badalamenti provides an interesting score and the cinematography of Bruno Debonnel (Am?e) adds a luscious visual depth to the whimsical nature of the film.

A Very Long Engagement will not appeal to everyone, especially as it has more in common with the black humour of Delicatessen than it has with the sweetness of Am?e. Still, Jeunet has a unique imagination unrivalled amongst current directors, and A Very Long Engagement is easily the best Boxing Day release for 2004.

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