If She Didn't Want It, She Wouldn't Have Smiled Like That.
I hate ‘cute’. ‘Cute’ makes me angry and hostile, like showing a rapist bondage porn. I’m actually a dangerous person after watching Disney horse movies or J-Pop music videos, liable to find the first person with a Hello Kitty pencil case and stomp her to death, even if she’s only six. Especially if she’s only six. It’s not that I’m particularly hostile, and it’s not that the mere fact of something being cute that bothers me, but rather the effect it has on those around me. Every time something ‘cute’ pops up, like a small dog or a white baby, the entire intellect of the room drops so low you have to measure it in degrees Kelvin, and people start cooing like a lobotomized Teletubby. And there’s no greater offender in the realm of cute than Audrey Tautou, star of the abominable Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain. That film appears to have been reverse engineered from the brain of Barney the Dinosaur, all bright colors and feel-good sentiment and sugar and spice and everything nice and nothing of any substance whatsoever. But people watched it and cooed, and felt all fuzzy inside, and gushed like geysers, and from that moment on I swore I’d find Tautou and cut her dimples out with serrated steak knife to remind people that smiling at the camera and winking for two hours straight is not acting, it’s just pornography for seratonin glands.
However, I’ve revised my opinion with A Very Long Engagement. While all of the elements that annoyed me so violently in …Amelie Poulin are present here, from the sparkly digital effects to the hyperactive pace, there’s an undercurrent of darkness that serves to level things out, an element sorely lacking in the prior Tautou/Jeunet collaboration. This is no doubt due to the fact that A Very Long Engagement is a war film, not a live action cartoon, so a certain element of morbidity is inevitable. But it’s necessary, because without a counterpoint, the film would just be a melody without a bass-line; a six-year old humming a Spice Girls song. But while the film no longer makes me want to find and end cuteness wherever it may lurk, it still doesn’t make it a particularly good movie. It’s diverting enough and the visuals are captivating, but it suffers from the same overdone digital slickness that plagues most French films nowadays, making them all look like glazed donuts.
Tautou plays Madeline, a young woman gimped by polio who loses her fiancé in the First World War. Convinced that he’s still alive, she embarks on an investigative quest to find him, one that reveals murder, corruption, and plenty of computer graphics. The film strikes the right tone for its material, never too dark, but always too grounded by a sense of tragedy to fly off the handle like …Amelie Poulain. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that while the film isn’t good, there’s enough violence and darkness in this film to stop me from being violent and dark. Now if only the bondage pornography would work the same way.