Pricey ‘Engagement’

Warners puts up $47 mil for Jeunet movie

PARIS — Continuing its aggressive overseas production strategy, Warner Bros. is backing Gallic helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s next project, “A Very Long Engagement,” to the tune of $47 million-plus, the studio’s biggest budget for a French-lingo pic.

Film will be Jeunet’s second to star Audrey Tautou after “Amelie.”

“This is going to be one of the biggest films for Warner Bros. next year,” Warner Bros. Intl. exec VP Richard Fox said Tuesday.

“From our side, whether the film is $3 million or $40 million, we always have a nervous feeling. But audiences will connect to this film whatever the language.”

The studio will distribute the film in all territories, starting in France in October 2004, and shooting for a subsequent December release in the U.S., in time for Oscar consideration.

Pic, based on the bestseller of the same name by the late Sebastien Japrisot, tells the tale of Mathilde, a young woman who embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her soldier fiance during World War I.

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“Engagement” will reunite most of the “Amelie” crew including co-writer Guillaume Laurant, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, production designer Aline Bonetto, costume designer Madeline Fontaine and editor Herve Schneid.

Jeunet, a self-proclaimed WWI addict, said he had wanted to make the film for 10 years and brought his script to Warner Bros. after several false starts.

“This is the only I book I ever wanted to adapt,” Jeunet said. “But I didn’t know who the best actress for the part would be. Then I met Audrey.”

Jeunet admitted there will be similarities between characters Amelie and Mathilde, but “Engagement” will be a less cartoonish film, and Mathilde is a stronger, more self-assured character.

Relating to character

“Mathilde is the grandmother of Amelie, or Amelie in another life,” Jeunet said. “The title could be ‘Amelie Goes to War.'”

The helmer is aiming for a “Godfather II” sepia-tinted look for his film — a far cry from the graphic colors of “Amelie.”

The leading man is still being kept under wraps. “The deal is not done yet, but it’s a matter of days,” Jeunet said, revealing only that the actor is young and French.