A Very Long Engagement

A Very Long Engagement, Audrey Tautou
Image credit: A Very Long Engagement: Bruno Calvo

Must-see holiday movies: ''A Very Long Engagement''

THE STORY Based on the 1991 novel that was a best-seller in its Gallic home, the French-language Engagement stars Amélie gamine Audrey Tautou (pictured) as Mathilde, a 19-year-old polio survivor who refuses to believe her fiancé, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), has been killed in a WWI prison camp. With the help of an eccentric, handlebar-mustached private eye (Ticky Holgado), she sets out to find him. Along the way she encounters the tragedy of war, as told through various characters' brutal flashbacks. Says leading man Ulliel: ''At its core, the film is deeply antimilitaristic. It really is a message of hope.''
WHY WE LOVE IT For reuniting the irresistible Tautou with her Amélie director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Like their prior collaboration, Engagement takes place in a world brimming with romantic whimsy and endearing oddballs (a postman who delights in scattering pebbles with his bicycle; a bistro owner whose wooden hand doubles as a nutcracker), but this time, Jeunet balances it with an epic gravitas.
YOU MIGHT LIKE IT IF YOU LIKED... Amélie, of course, and Anthony Minghella's true-love-during-wartime The English Patient.
THE PEDIGREE Jeunet's major breakthrough was 1991's bizarre black comedy Delicatessen, which he cowrote and codirected. It featured many actors who would become his regulars, including Holgado and Dominique Pinon, here cast as Mathilde's supportive uncle.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR Flawless French speaker Jodie Foster, as a widow who's part of the puzzle Mathilde must solve to recover Manech. (Nov. 26, R)