Following huge success with offbeat love story Amelie, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou re-teamed for A Very Long Engagement. It's a "beautiful, but not truthful" romance set in the aftermath of WWI. Some were wary of its fairytale sensibility, but most critics loved it. Unfortunately ticket sales didn't come anywhere near Amelie and in the end it recouped just $6m of a staggering $55m budget.
At 75 minutes, A Year At The Front is an epic journey through the making of the film and proves to be compulsive viewing. It picks up as Jeunet runs through final storyboards and offers a fly-on-the-wall view of the shoot. Most impressive are the staging of grand scale battle sequences, but there are some quirky moments too, like Tautou struggling to get to grips with her tuba and Jeunet holding a casting session for dogs. Finally, snippets from post-production find Jeunet revelling in the possibilities of CG filmmaking, or as he sees it, "No more actors!"
It's no wonder the film cost so much when Jeunet reveals that 120 sets had to be built from scratch. In Parisian Scenes he admits, "That's more sets than days of filming," but he insists this was essential to convincingly recreate 20s Paris. Meanwhile his team of designers talk about their research and finding inspiration in the paintings of Juarez Machado - although the end result is probably more reminiscent of those Stella Artois ads. Cameras also follow them through the process of dressing a few of those 120 sets as well as clothing the actors.
Jeunet threw more money at an audacious scene that depicts a zeppelin crashing into a makeshift hospital. Before The Explosion records the logistical complications, meticulous choreography and cutting edge visual effects that went into producing this sequence. It's jaw-dropping stuff with stuntmen running around in a hail of broken glass while explosions are triggered all around them.
In The Trenches
14 deleted scenes sounds like a lot until you realise that these are mostly just extended scenes. As Jeunet says in an optional commentary, "We practically withheld nothing from you." However, a sequence of dialogue that drifts into fantasy reveals that Jeunet did at least make an effort to rein in his tendency for whimsical moments. In fact the matter loomed large in his mind as he explains in a thoughtful feature commentary. "It was going to be unconventional at first," he says, "And then I realised it should be sober and in good taste." Nonetheless he cites a bizarre range of influences from The Godfather to A Fistful Of Dollars...
While it looks like a modest package and the actors have little to say for themselves, this two-disc DVD boasts up-close-and-personal behind-the-scenes access. Jeunet's wild ambition makes the footage especially fascinating but his military approach to the job proves that moviemaking doesn't have to be a battle.