The Red Right Hand

(A Very Long Engagement)
'Never Let Go'

Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Audrey Tautou
Gaspard Ulliel
Dominique Pinon
Tcheky Karyo

It would appear director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has struck gold once more. With previous titles like Delicatessen (sheer genius, a black comedy featuring a hotel of cannibals) La Cite Des Enfants Perdus (a fantastical sf drama that I happen to truly love for it's absolute absurdity - almost like a modern Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.. only less singing), Alien: Ressurection (not the best of the Alien series but I still feel it did credit to the saga) and 2001's acclaimed hit Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain (or Amelie as it's more popularly known to us English-Speaking-Types) Jeunet's next film has been awaited with eager anticipation by both fans and critics alike.

A movie of this calibre is a rarity, a true diamond in the cutesy-moissanite of the film industry. Based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot, the story opens on five French soldiers being taken to the frontline of the Somme. In typical Jeunet style each of the soldier's backgrounds are outlined in flashbacks, this is where we find that they all have something in common. Having seen the horrors of the battlefields they all decide they've had enough and each shoot themselves in the hand. Of course, they're all sentenced to a court martial and found guilty for self-mutilation in order to be relieved. Their sentence is to be left in no-man's land to fend for themselves in the cross-fire. The Germans open fire and they're all presumed dead. This is where the bulk of the story kicks in, you find out that one of the soldiers, Manech [Ulliel], has a fiance waiting for him, Mathilde [Tautou], who has just received some information that may mean Manech survived the 'execution.' What begins is a desperate and restless search for evidence and clues to lead Mathilde to her Manech. The story alone is superb, with all the distanced romance of a classic wartime love story combined with the tragedies and insanity of war. Some people may have problems with the film's habit of slipping in-and-out of genres -war film, cute art flick, romance, comedy, mystery- but I feel that at the heart of this film is a young woman's pursuit for her lover with certain aspects of varying genres sampled and applied to a broad background, as an artist applies paint to a canvas.

The casting as ever is fantastic, using Tautou as the centre-piece once again as Mathilde, a girl who has had walking difficulties ever since childhood after suffering a polio infection. With returning actors and actresses from Jeunet's previous work, such as Dominique Pinon, who plays Mathilde's uncle and legal guardian, adding some wonderful comical interludes and Ticky Holgado playing Germain Pire, the eccentric Private Investigator that Mathilde hires to help her find her missing fianc. The only point I raised an eyebrow and wondered why a certain person had been cast was when Jodie Foster suddenly appeared in a market place with the role of Elodie Gordes, but this feeling of obscurity quickly wore off and I was rather impressed with her immersion amongst the French (i.e. the believability of her accent).

The photography and general layout of the film is also spectacular, every scene showing either the beauty of France after the war or bringing to life the true gritty nature that was alive during WWI. In retrospect I can't even begin to see how you could cut so drastically between breath-taking open locations with slow pans and long horizons to the desolate trenches of the Somme filmed with tight-shots and shaky cams, but somehow it achieves it with ease. You truly leave the cinema with a clear line between war and peace, seeing that the world at peace is full of light, colour and joy but the world at war is grey & black with acts of savagery madness and desperation. The only moment that I have to admit did seem like Hollywood had stuck their nose in was when Notre Dame [Colvis Cornillac], having already evaded death three or four times, finds himself in a temporary war hospital housing a hydrogen-filled blimp - which climactically catches fire and he manages to be the only one that survives. Just the sheer size of the explosion and the somewhat implausible nature of his escape almost dampens the film a little (even though it's the only fault I can find).

Although at times Manech does seem like a bit of a fop that wouldn't be worth the hassle, Mathilde's journey is a compelling and heart-wrenching one. I'm not sure if this film's longevity will be able to match that of Amelie's but time will only tell. My recommendation? Take someone to see this film, ignore the fact that it's French (DO NOT WATCH THE DUBBED VERSION!) and enjoy yourself, it's like a French Titanic but so much better.

Release Date:
21 January 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
This is probably going to sound obscure but I feel it's one of the pinnacle moments of the film; in the closing minutes of the film Mathilde is waiting on a garden pavilion applying her make-up as the voice over explains that she doesn't apply 'the black that makes your eyelashes look long, for tears can easily make it run.'

Notable Characters:
The femme-fatale, Tina Lombardi [Marion Cotillard], a prostitute tracking down her lost pimp/lover. This adds a nice parallel to Mathilde's search - which is conducted in a totally different way.

Highlighted Quote:
"Miracles don't just happen in Lourdes, you know"

In A Few Words:
"In Jeunet We Trust"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon