Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for wartime violence and bloodshed
Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Audrey Tautou is back in fine form as a war widow who refuses to believe that her lover has been killed at the front.
It’s not Amelie, but an entirely different kind of fantasy that weaves life’s harshest realities into the warp and woof of its surreal narrative. Tautou plays Mathilde, a bright and fanciful young woman who lives with a mild handicap and dreams of the day that her fiancé, court-martialed and posted to the no-man’s land between France and Germany, will rejoin her from the WWI battlefront.
When news arrives of Manech’s (Gaspard Ulliel) demise, Mathilde won’t entertain the thought, unwilling to accept that her beloved is lost to her forever. Thus Mathilde sets out on a remarkable journey to discover the hand that fate has dealt her young paramour.
The road is strewn with nay-sayers and dead ends that do not deter the cheerfully disposed Mathilde. Her fresh spin on each new frustration lies in stark contrast to the horrors lying just under the surface of her investigations. Fastidious detecting speaks to wretched conditions, ostracizing and possibly execution, but Mathilde soldiers on.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (Amelie, Delicatessen) touch is golden, even when it lights on something as profoundly ugly as war. The look is stylistic and the dark narrative tinged with surprising humor.
Tautou brings her engaging warmth to Mathilde’s plucky mission, rendering the depth of her love as something tangible and genuine. A maze of flashbacks flesh out a nimble backstory that could have benefited from an editing trim or two (or three or four).
Clever, capricious, and unexpectedly melancholic.