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A Very Long Engagement
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293 of 302 people found the following review helpful
My understanding is that France has declined to submit A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT for Oscar consideration as 2004's Best Foreign Film. I can't imagine why.

War is not glorious. Especially if you're Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), a young French soldier convicted by a military court, along with four others, of committing self-mutilation with the intent of escaping service in the front lines of World War I. The punishment is grotesque. Rather than death by firing squad, the five are forced over the top of the most forward trench and into the No Man's Land between the French and German positions - there to die by whatever bullet, mortar shell, or bomb strikes them down. The subsequent deaths of all five are attested to. Letters are sent to surviving family members by the French authorities saying their boys died in battle. This was in 1917.

Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) was Manech's fiancée when he marched off to war. She's also crippled in one leg after having been afflicted with polio at a very young age. In 1920, she's contacted by a dying survivor of the war, ex-Sergeant Esperanza (Jean-Pierre Becker), who'd been in charge of the provost detail assigned to escort the five condemned men to the front trench, as well as act as carrier of the last missive each was permitted to write home. He tells Mathilde of their bizarre fate, and gives her their last letters, which he's kept since the war's end. Using these and the veteran's story to provide clues, Mathilde embarks on a lengthy search for the truth behind Manech's death with the help of a private investigator (Ticky Holgado). Interviewing friends, family members, and lovers of Marech's four condemned companions, as well as other soldiers present in the trench, Mathilde needs to answer the question, "Is Manech truly dead?" She has no doubts; he's alive. But, the evidence is elusive and inconsistent.

As crafted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT is a hypnotic tale of mystery, official cover-ups, lies, misperceptions, secrets, coincidence, tenuous clues, guilt, innocence, honor, and, ultimately, love. Jeunet has created a masterpiece of special FX, lighting, unusual camera angles, split screen images, breathtaking panoramas, and visual asides. And then there are the entrancing depths of Audrey Tatou's brown eyes, in which I could happily lose myself forever. There's not been the likes of this young actress since Audrey Hepburn.

Though not advertised as such, this film is a gut wrenching depiction of World War I trench warfare. It's perhaps the best I've ever seen, especially when shown in contrast to gentle Mathilde's quest through post-war Paris and the luminous French countryside.

Astute and sardonic Mathilde, perhaps because of her affliction, is a take-no-prisoners dynamo of perseverance. No obstacle is too great that it can't be overcome. In the end, she finds ... Truth. And, if you see A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, you'll experience amazement, delight, and tears. For me, it's 2004's Best Foreign Film no matter what the Academy votes.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Sure, the name is an open target for dumb jokes. But Sébastien Japrisot's haunting romance "A Very Long Engagement" translates well onto the big screen, with a bit of help from "Amelie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the wonderful Audrey Tautou.

Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is a pretty young girl who was left crippled by polio, and is being raised by her uncle and aunt. Before World War I, she fell in love with a boy called Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), but he was sent to the war and killed. Three years later, Mathilde gets a mysterious letter with shocking news: Manech was not killed in action, but condemned to death by being sent unarmed to the front lines -- and miraculously, he might still be alive.

Mathilde is determined to find her lover -- dead or alive -- and learn what really happened on that day three years ago. So she puts out ads in the papers, gathers accounts, and hires a detective to follow the cold trail. And slowly the gaps in the stories emerge, giving Mathilde clues to whether Manech died... and where he might be now.

"A Very Long Engagement" (French title: "Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles") diddles a few details from the novel, but is faithful to it in the ways that matter -- the "MMM" inscriptions, the non-linear storytelling, the horrors of World War I. In some ways, it seems almost impossible to transfer onto film without creating a pretentious mess -- but it wasn't.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet proves that "Amelie" was no fluke, but this time he relies mostly on visual artistry, rather than in magical realism. He also reminds us, by displaying the French countryside along with flashbacks of the front lines, that war is stupid and wasteful. But it's not an obvious, slam-in-your-face reminder. Like the romance, it's delicate and wistful.

The only problem with "A Very Long Engagement" is the "long" part -- it's truly exquisite, but it does drag a bit. Since it can be summed up as "girl searches for her seemingly dead lover," there are only a few twists along the way. But the beautiful visuals may make up for that in part. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is particularly striking, tinted in sepia or black and white. The entire movie has the feeling of an old photograph brought to life.

The love between Manech and Mathilde is not a grand passion, but it is a very real love -- it's not implausible to believe that two such people might have existed. Tautou is sweetly elfin as Mathilde, creating a likable heroine that it's impossible not to root for. Ulliel gives an equally good performance as the boyish, naive Manech, a perfect match for Mathilde.

"A Very Long Engagement" is a truly beautiful follow-up to the magical "Amelie" -- a war story, a love story, and a mystery all in one. Enchanting.
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110 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2005
Yes, I said, "lush". This movie visually encompasses the colors found in our most beautiful dreams and yet is in many aspects reflective in it's depiction of WWI through the eyes of the French. It is an epic tale of romantic hope during WWI that follows the investigative journey of a young woman named Mathilde played by Audrey Tatou (Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things) who is trying to find out what has happened to her lover.

Several plots are played out through out Mathildes' search. At first you blindly follow the scenes and then slowly the stories become knitted together as you discover along with Mathilde the truth her loves circumstance. I enjoyed the interweaving of the story and the wonderful directing that held this movie together so well by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Alien Resurrection).

Most of all, I loved the cinematography. Thank you, Bruno Delbonnel! Mr. Delbonnel (The Cat's Meow, Amelie) created the visually lush colors in this film with his wonderful talent in the art of cinematoghraphy. This film is lush and beautiful with it's fabulous color in the country scenes to it dramatic sephia effect during the war scenes. Together with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Mr. Delbonnel has created a wonderful film and piece of art.

Finally, I'd like to mention the supporting actors associated with this film: Jodie Foster, Julie Depardieu, Marion Cotillard, Gaspard Ulliel, Tcheky Karyo, and Clovis Cornillac. This is a wonderful french film with depth, beauty, hope, and like all the French films I've seen a quirky sense of humor that enhances the wonderful art of life.

girldiver:)
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 7, 2005
I was prepared to dislike "Un long dimanche de fiançailles", reasoning that a 131 minute French WWI era epic costing $56 Million would be bloated and ponderous, in the tradition of "Gone With the Wind". Instead I found a complex story that blended visual mastery with emotional intimacy. While the huge budget was there for all to see in the wonderful production design, it did not overwhelm the human elements of the film.

If you have not seen this film try to imagine a "Paths of Glory" premise, leading to a woman's obsessive quest on almost the intensity level of Truffaut's "The Story of Adele H", and revealed in a storytelling style like that of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashômon".

Like Kurosawa's classic, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Un long dimanche de fiançailles" illustrates the subjectivity of truth. In this case soldiers in both the French and the German trenches witness the disciplinary banishment of five French soldiers to the "no-mans-land" between their trenches (apparently the French were enamored enough by the English term for this area that they adopted it). As the heroine and her detective track down individual survivors they discover conflicting accounts of what became of each marooned soldier. Each witness saw the same thing but from their own individual perspective. Obviously this misdirection device is not original (see "The Hole" for a particularly nice recent example) but it is very effective and is simply one weapon in a director's arsenal of ways to take the viewer where they want them to go.

Amelie" star Audrey Tautou, the "Adele H" of this film, is a young woman who refuses ("An albatross is stubborn, he knows he can outlast the wind") to believe her fiancée and childhood sweetheart is dead. They have been in love since age nine. French films are big on this childhood sweetheart angle. Although I have never known an actual couple who can trace their romantic involvement all the way back to this early age, it does provide an excuse for some of the film's best scenes; the polio disabled girl being carried to the top of the lighthouse by her young admirer, where they kiss each other on opposite sides of the glass window.

"Un long dimanche de fiançailles's" greatest strength is also it's greatest weakness as the complex "Rashômon-like" storytelling technique and huge array of characters and incidents requires close attention or careful note taking to keep viewers from being overwhelmed. This is made even more challenging by the need to read subtitles (unless your French is way better than mine) while attempting to view the action.

It could benefit from a little selective trimming, like losing the moronic and completely unnecessary hospital scene with the silly exploding hydrogen balloon. This scene does not fit the tone and texture of the film but it probably cost so much to stage that they felt compelled to utilize it. It subtracts 10 IQ points from the target audience.

Tautou's character Mathilde is able to enlist the aid of a famous private detective (The Peerless Pry) at a bargain price because his own little girl is likewise a polio victim. Two recurrent devices are used repeatedly to unify this complex story. The first is Mathilde's heartbreakingly vivid reliance upon little superstitions to tell her if her soldier is still alive ("if I reach the bend before the car Manech will return safely"). The second is a comic relief bit involving the rural postman's dramatic arrival on his bicycle with the latest dispatch to advance the story ("When I see gravel I make it a point of arriving in style').

Fortunately, Jeunet does not give into the temptation to go out on an overly dramatic note but instead ends with a restrained poetic voice-over. Very nice.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
There are a handful of directors who create films that are always interesting and I eagerly anticipate the release of their films, flocking to the theater on opening weekend. I know that even if Clint Eastwood, Terry Zwigoff, Patrice Laconte, Peter Greenaway and others, park an actor in front of the camera reading the phone book, (I'm looking at you, Greenaway. "8 ½ Women"? What were you thinking?), these bad films will have some element that is interesting and help them rise above the rest of the pack. I count on these directors to lift my spirits and prove to me that film can still be an art form.

Jean- Pierre Jeunet, a member of this club, creates films jam packed with unique, interesting visual details. This level of enhancement in his films helps create the fantasy worlds that are the setting to his films, to such a degree that you never doubt their existence. The addition of memorable, believable characters and an interesting story helps raise his films to a level not achieved by many other directors.

"A Very Long Engagement", his follow up to "Amelie", one of my favorite films of all time, also stars Audrey Tautou. However, the similarities pretty much end there.

Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is one of five French soldiers sentenced to death for self-mutilation during World War I. For their sentence, they are taken to the front line, a place called Bingo Crepuscule. The orders are to send them over the front line and let the Germans, the freezing cold, starvation, or a combination take care of them. Mathilde (Tautou), Manech's lover, learns of all of this later. She is told that Manech was killed, but doesn't, can't, believe it. Searching for Manech, she leaves her aunt and uncle's idyllic seaside farmhouse, for the journey. She will meet anyone and follow any lead that might prove to her that Manech is still alive.

"Engagement" is a beautiful film to watch. This may seem strange, given that a third of the film takes places during the first world war. As Mathilde makes her way along the journey, Jeunet crafts a picture perfect rendition of early 20th Century France. The country scenes are idyllic, and would seem to be easier to craft, but they blend seemlessly with the sepia-toned images of Paris. A scene set in a busy marketplace in Paris was obviously created with the aid of CGI, not because it is faulty in any way, but because it is so perfect and expansive. The scenes set on the front lines are equally memorable for their quick, incisive images that convey the horrors of war.

Jeunet tries to recreate many film conventions from the Silent film era. He uses an iris camera movement a few times, paints the images in sepia tones and more. These `ticks', for lack of a better word, actually aid in the recreation of this world. They help us forget that we are watching a film made last year. Perhaps it was actually made during the silent era, or the early days of talkies. Perhaps they actually filmed in that crowded marketplace in the middle of Paris. Was that a real locomotive? A real bi-plane?

The film should also be applauded for it's restraint with music. Many scenes have no musical score, allowing the viewer to experience and feel emotions that you experience. The music doesn't broadcast the emotions the filmmaker expects you to feel. This further aids in a moving and genuine experience.

Audrey Tautou became a sensation in France and well-known here for her role in "Amelie", a role so infectious and lovable. In "Engagement", the laughter is almost wholly replaced by drama and she is very memorable as Mathilde. Mathilde is on a quest. Her life's love has been pronounced dead, but she doesn't believe it. Tautou conveys the love her character feels which makes us believe in her quest.

All of the actors, and there are many, create characters that are believable and add to the fabric of the story. Also, each of these characters has a unique backstory, which we learn about, during the course of the film. Even Jodie Foster, who plays a supporting character, makes you forget that you are watching American Film Star Jodie Foster.

Every single element of Jeunet's films is crafted with such detail that you often forget you are watching a film and get swept up in the story he is telling. Isn't that the mark of a great filmmaker?
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2005
A romantic French WWI epic, this is a story about two life-long lovers, Mathilde and Manech, separated by the war. Having lost both parents in a transit disaster and crippled by polio, Mathilde has little more than her imagination and memories to comfort her while she anxiously awaits the return of her fiancée Manech. She refuses to accept the news of a German siege at his location as a sure sign of his demise, and even a visit to his grave isn't convincing enough. She enlists the aid of a bumbling investigator to find some leads, but ultimately it is Mathilde herself, strapped with resolute determination, piecing together the intricate pieces of the puzzle that make up the fate of her beloved Manech. Like in Jeunet's "Amelie" we are led through a gauntlet of mysterious, passionate, and perverse characters. One of those characters is played by Jodie Foster, who delivers quite a blazing performance in just a few minutes on screen. Director Jeunet creates a contrast of realities by cutting from the beautiful French countryside to the bustle of Paris, and of course to the WWI battlefield. The battlefield scenes are not for the squeamish - filmed with such nightmarish realism that rivals the brutality depicted in the famous opening minutes of "Saving Private Ryan." This is an immensely moving story about hope, stuffed with humor, horror, and humanity. Photographed with such painful dreamlike beauty and set to a haunting score, A Very Long Engagement is one of the year's most magnificent films.

Ironically enough, this film has been shunned by French critics for being "too American." Unfortunately American audiences will mostly stay way from a film spoken in French (though it is subtitled very well in English). Americans love war movies, and this is one of the very best to be made in the past decade. Be brave and see a film with subtitles, and you will not regret your decision.

Recommended if you liked: Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Amelie.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2008
The 2004 Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie,The City of Lost Children,Delicatessen) film A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles) is one of those rare movies I'm urged to consume myself with annually. In fact it was my favorite film of that year and Jeunet, were it not for the terrible Alien Resurrection, has a nearly flawless list of films he has directed, at least in my opinion. Here, Jeunet once again gets to work with the quirky, lovable, and brilliant Audrey Tautou, who were it not for her humble choice of roles outside of The Da Vinci Code, would probably be a Hollywood icon. They clearly compliment each other, as in A Very Long Engagement Jeunet recaptures everything that makes Tautou so wonderful in Amélie. But that's not all. Jeunet has an outstanding international ensemble in this movie. Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon is back once again. 2007 Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Môme a.k.a. La Vie en rose) is absolutely perfect as the tragic anti-hero and clever revenge connoisseur, Tina Lombardi. Gaspard Ulliel, who plays the infamous title character in 2007's Hannibal Rising, co-stars opposite Tautou, and is as equally engaging for his pure boyish innocence in the role. Even Jodie Foster appears in a supporting role and is as compelling as ever. On the technical side Bruno Delbonnel (unquestionably among the best cinematographers in the world) collaborates again with Jeunet to make a great story also a visually dazzling film. Frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti scores the film effectively as well. But enough about who made the movie.

A Very Long Engagement follows Mathilde (Tautou), an orphan partially paralyzed from polio, as she undertakes a desperate journey to find her fiancé, a French soldier in World War I named Manech (Ulliel). Their love for one another is portrayed as remarkably profound and that really is what this movie is built on. Jeunet has a unique way of introducing characters to us. He makes it almost impossible to not relate in some way to them. The characters in his films are far more charming than most, especially here. Manech was one of five soldiers convicted of self-mutilation. He did this so he would no longer have to serve. All five soldiers faced a death sentence by being forced to enter No Man's Land between the French and German trenches. All are assumed to have not survived but Mathilde's faith in Manech's survival cannot be shaken. A Very Long Engagement is seen through the perspective of both primary characters, but mostly focuses on Mathilde. I won't give away the end but suffice to say it is among the most beautiful bittersweet movie moments in many years.

In such a passionate story that never loses my attention I sometimes forget how amazing this film is visually. You can plainly see that Jeunet is delighted to tell his story with a big budget, and believe me he uses it wisely. The war scenes do not for one second turn away. Even with all I've heard, read about, or seen visual interpretations of; nothing could prepare me for Jeunet's seemingly spot-on depiction of World War I trench warfare brutality. What's amazing is he contrasts these fragmented horrific visuals with mostly gorgeous countryside shots of north western France and gazing shots of the beautiful and delicate Mathilde. Seems so appropriate, as the world I see today might need these contrasts as a reminder of how very beautiful life has the potential to be. A Very Long Engagement to me is the total package. It really is what movies should be about and I very highly recommend it to anyone.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2004
It's difficult to combine a charming, almost quaint love story with a grand, very intense war epic without getting some mixed results. That's how I left the theatre after watching A Very Long Engagement - feeling mixed.

On the one hand, the overarching story of a woman desperately clinging to hope of her one true love's return is as sweet and heartwarming as Buttercup in The Princess Bride. In Audrey Tautou, Jean-Pierre Jeunet really has found the perfect embodiment of young, almost misguided, love. Tautou plays Mathilde with such sincerity and devotion that, like Amelie, you can't help but root for her. That's important because Mathilde is the axis around which the story revolves and everything comes back to her. She launches her own inquiry as to what really happened at Bingo Crepuscule, the place soldiers accused of self-mutilation or treason were sent to die. And that leads to the second movie within a movie.

The war portion of AVLE is a gritty, dirty, bare bones portrayal. I hesitate to use the word "realistic" because my basis for comparison is basically other war movies. However, what Jeunet does capture realistically are the feelings of hopelessness and the desire to be home. Home is normalcy, family, love, and warmth. War is a dark, muddy bleakness that goes for miles on end. It's easy to say that soldiers who mutilate themselves to get back home are driven to the brink by madness, but is it crazier to stay and very possibly die for a cause you're not entirely sure about or try and do anything in your power to get back to your loved ones? This movie isn't a moral judgment on soldiers or warfare but it explores the things that are done in the name of war and the effects it has on those left behind.

One notable performance aside from Tautou of course is Marion Cotillard as Tina Lombardi, the girlfriend of another of the condemned soldiers who is also looking for her love. Her methods are slightly different from Mathilde's but it's interesting to see just how similar they are.

I really enjoyed both parts of AVLE. Jeunet captures the little idiosyncracies of people like no one else. One example is how we always make deals with ourselves to change our fate - for example, "If I hold my breath until the end of the tunnel then I'll make it to work on time." Another of Jeunet's trademarks are the wonderful characters that surround the heroine. In this case, the doting aunt and uncle, the postman, and the private investigator to name a few. I left feeling mixed because you literally go through your entire emotional range during the movie - laughter and happiness to just utter horror and sadness. By the end, you're almost too depleted to make a definitive determination on the movie. There are also a lot of characters and the soldiers especially, who spend alot of time being covered in mud and dirt, are difficult to tell apart. When their personal stories came up, I found myself asking "Now which one is he again?" In that sense, I think you really need to see it twice in order to make a final assessment. Perhaps I'll go watch it again and update my review.

All in all, this is a movie you almost have to watch again to clarify all the different characters, but it's one that is WORTH watching again. I really enjoyed the love story and I really enjoyed the war story - both are incredibly done. But the combination of the two really makes AVLE an epic - an epic story and an epic emotional rollercoaster. Because of all the ups and downs, you almost need the ending to be really sad or really happy, just to get some closure, but that's the one emotion the movie didn't offer.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
It's difficult to combine a charming, almost quaint love story with a grand, very intense war epic without getting some mixed results. That's how I felt after watching it.

On the one hand, the overarching story of a woman desperately clinging to hope of her one true love's return is as sweet and heartwarming as Buttercup in The Princess Bride. In Audrey Tautou, Jean-Pierre Jeunet really has found the perfect embodiment of young, almost misguided, love. Tautou plays Mathilde with such sincerity and devotion that, like Amelie, you can't help but root for her. That's important because Mathilde is the axis around which the story revolves and everything comes back to her. She launches her own inquiry as to what really happened at Bingo Crepuscule, the place soldiers accused of self-mutilation or treason was sent to die. And that leads to the second movie within a movie. The war portion of AVLE is a gritty, dirty, bare bones portrayal. It's easy to say that soldiers who mutilate themselves to get back home are driven to the brink by madness, but is it crazier to stay and very possibly die for a cause you're not entirely sure about or try and do anything in your power to get back to your loved ones? This movie isn't a moral judgment on soldiers or warfare but it explores the things that are done in the name of war and the effects it has on those left behind. By the end, you're almost too depleted to make a definitive determination on the movie. There are also a lot of characters and the soldiers especially, who spend alot of time being covered in mud and dirt, are difficult to tell apart. When their personal stories came up, I found myself asking "Now which one is he again?" In that sense, I think you really need to see it twice in order to make a final assessment. Jodie Foster was a pleasant surprise. Her cameo character added weight and credibility to the movie somewhat.

All in all, this is a movie you almost have to watch twice to clarify all the different characters, but is WORTH watching again. The love story and war story - both are incredibly done. But the combination of the two really makes AVLE an epic - an epic story and an epic emotional roller coaster. Because of all the ups and downs, you almost need the ending to be really sad or really happy, just to get some closure, but that's the one emotion the movie didn't offer. A VERY long engagement indeed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Once more the French fertile imagination decides to make a real punch demostration of superb good taste and charm picture, get its goals without apparent effort. The dinamism and engaging script won't let you down. You will face and be part of this sensible drama in search for a love in the middle of the First War. Pierre Jeunet employs the War only as a big frame to tell us a love story and the inexhaustive hope that feeds the soul of Audrey Tautoo, a twenty years old girl who never gives up for his love's life. She suffered of polio in her early childhood but that is not any obstacle to prevail in what she believes.
The script is real web that will involve several secondary stories but the whole ensamble is conceived as a huge watch mechanism, so well articulated and filled of intelligent doses of black humor all the way.
Andre Dussollier, Jodie Foster, Dominique Pinon and all the cast is simply outstanding. The crude war sequences are admirably well filmed, loaded with intense realism and profound humanity before any other circumstance. Jeunet does not judge, he just only watchs and presents the kindness and the abominable horror of certain human beings not only in the War but far beyond the War field. The destroyed indult letter of Poincaré that never came, will work as a complex fixed idea of revenge because the life of these five men will be narrowed linked.
If you like the artistic films, if you want to enjoy of a whole film, without fissures that face you with the reality of those years you will enjoy this one. No doubt just a second and go for this artwork.
Nowadays the lovely, funny and expresive face of Audrey Tautoo. Jeune as Stanley Donen with the other Audrey, and at least fifty million people in the world are simply bewitched with her charisma and outstanding presence. Undoubtedly she would seem to fill the long long time expected emptiness left by the other Audrey, at last.
Pierre Jeunet's handle camera is just equalled by Terry Gilliam in what rapture travellings and close up concern.
A must in your collection.
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