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Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant

'A Very Long Engagement'

Studio: Warner Independent Pictures (released Nov. 26)

Category: Adapted from the novel by Sebastien Japrisot.

Storyline: During and after WWI, a young French woman, Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), scours the country for information about her missing fiance, who was among a group of wounded soldiers abandoned by their own troops.

About the script: In tackling the sweeping, ambitious novel, director Jeunet collaborated with his “Amelie” co-writer Laurant to uncover the simple story at its core. “Our first task was to take this ultrasophisticated machine apart, like dismantling an engine into its separate components to see how it works,” Jeunet explains. Says Laurant: “We worked to agree on what had to be kept and what discarded, and decide upon a structure. Then Jean-Pierre wrote a 30-page synopsis. On the basis of that, I wrote a first draft. (Then) it was to-and-fro between myself and Jean-Pierre until we came up with a final version.”

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The writers had to translate the epistolary parts of the book — letters sent and received by Mathilde — into the immediacy of film. “We kept some letters but poeticized them visually,” says Jeunet. “We transformed many into actual meetings between Mathilde and the other person.” They also made a difficult decision — that Mathilde would not be in a wheelchair, as in the book, but as a victim of poliomyelitis, she would limp. “In the novel, the reader ends up forgetting about the wheelchair,” notes Jeunet, “(but) onscreen, it would end up being too heavy. It would also have been cumbersome in terms of the production, and I wanted to be as free as possible.” Jeunet says they worked with author Japrisot’s blessing. Jeunet had explained what they were going to do. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to meet him,” says Jeunet. “He said, ‘Do it as you see fit. But come and see me after you’ve finished.’ Alas, he died a week before the script was finished. I was sad about that.”

Biggest challenge: To create “the right amount of breaks in the storm,” says Laurant. “By that, I mean the balance between the melodramatic, the historic realism, and the little touches of comedy, so that the dark does not prevail.”

Breakthrough idea: Per Laurant: “To focus on Mathilde’s deep-seated conviction that her fiance is not dead as the main drive of the movie. The final ‘bounce’ of the story comes out of Mathilde’s unyielding faith. Like Orpheus with Eurydice, Mathilde is going to take Maneck away from death. And death gives Maneck his life back, in exchange for his memory.”

Standout scene: “When Mathilde has just kissed Maneck and she runs through the brackens to try to reach the road before the car does. It is visually very beautiful, and everything is there: her tenacity, her fragility, her strength, her loneliness.”

Writers’ bios: Director Jeunet and scribe Laurant collaborated on the 2001 release “Amelie,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards, including original screenplay and foreign-language film. Directed by Jeunet, it won France’s Cesar Awards for film and director. They previously had collaborated on 1995 release “The City of Lost Children.”