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AMELIE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Audrey Tautou, Matthieu Kassovitz
Director:  Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  See Review
Length:  122 Minutes
Release Date:  July 16, 2002

“This is Amelie…in 48 hours, her life is going to change forever.  But she doesn’t know it yet.”

Film ****

Amelie is the kind of film experience almost forgotten in this day and age…the kind of movie that finds magic in simple pleasures, beauty in everything around, and doesn’t even know the meaning of the word ‘cynical’.  It’s a whimsical dose of pure effervescence…its feet never touch the ground, and neither do the audience’s.

Audrey Tautou is a real find as the title character, with her big, warm eyes and mischievous grin.  The film places her birth as a significant event, as though “fabulous destiny” (part of the original French title) had singled this one out.  She grows up shy and imaginative, using her penchant for fantasy as a way out of a mundane childhood. 

As an adult, she waitresses in a local café, still has trouble connecting with her father, and seems surrounded by the type of imaginative, comical supporting cast that will come in handy later on when she makes her life-changing discovery:  an old metal box filled with toys hidden away in her flat.

Upon tracking down the now elderly owner and anonymously returning the box, Amelie discovers her new life’s pleasure.  She will bring happiness to others.  Soon, the oddball and mismatched characters in her life become just the fodder she needs to seemingly create magic out of thin air.  She even discovers some for herself in the form of the unusual Nino (Kassovitz), a man with an unusual hobby and a mystery that haunts him.  We know Amelie can bring elusive joy to Nino…the question is, can she do for herself what she so whimsically seems to be able to do for others?

Everything about this picture shuns conventional thought and practice.  Director and co-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet throws caution completely to the wind.  He never snickers at his creations the way some more cowardly artists would.  He creates people and places of pure fantasy, then has the fortitude to take them seriously.  Amelie weaves a spell the way few modern movies do…we are dared not to surrender to it.

His take on Paris is as unreal as a painting, and all the better for it.  These characters couldn’t exist in our cold world.  They need this world of endless warmth and beauty in part to blossom into full potential.  But mostly, they just need Amelie.

Only the hardest of hearts will be able to resist the charms of this wonderful girl and this beautiful film, and I’ll dare say, they still won’t be able to resist it entirely.  This is the kind of movie that taps into our still youthful exuberance and wakens it, bringing it back to a time when laughter, joy, and love were more than just possibilities…they were inevitables.

Video ****

Amelie is a film with a distinctive visual style, and this anamorphic transfer from Miramax captures it beautifully.  Colors are rarely realistic…they aren’t meant to be.  They are unusually bright and warm, creating an artificial but beautiful world for the story.  This isn’t the Paris of the 21st century; it’s the Paris of the classic MGM musicals, and all the better for it.  The cornucopia of tones make this one of the busiest and most delightful helpings of eye candy you’re bound to come across with your DVD player.

Audio ****

Think this is a romantic comedy with a run-of-the-mill soundtrack?  Think again...this movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound, you know! 

Amelie is a fantasy, and fantasies are created with sounds.  Expect the unexpected with this 5.1 mix…you get it.  Sequences I’d rather not give away keep both front and rear stages active, and together they give the movie a wonderful audio ambience.  The subwoofer is also well used at strategic moments, and dialogue and music clarity are top notch.  Dynamic range is strong, and the crossovers from side to side and front to back are always smoothly mixed and balanced.

Features ****

This is a double disc set loaded with good extras.  Disc One features two commentary tracks by director Jeunet, but chances are, you’ll only need one (one’s in English, one’s in French).  He speaks English quite well and is an absolute delight to listen to, warning you at the beginning and the end that he might just be “spoiling the magic” (hardly).  Turns out, he’s a DVD fan who couldn’t wait to own his own movie on disc, and really enjoyed participating in it!

Disc Two contains everything else.  Some of the featurettes are short, but all put together, they create a wonderful portrait of the film.  One piece talks with Jeunet and his cinematographer about the look of the film.  “Fantasies of Audrey Tautou” is actually a short blooper reel for the actress (cute stuff).  There are two live Q&A sessions, one with Jeunet alone, and one with him and his cast.  There is an “intimate chat” with the director as well, in which he largely addresses the camera and speaks off the cuff.

The disc also contains test footage of some of the actors, a scrapbook, a home movie montage, talent files, storyboards, a scrapbook, plus a U.S. and French trailer and numerous TV spots for both countries.

Summary:

Amelie is one of those rare instances when a film you’ve heard about turns out to be all you hoped it would be and more.  This whimsical, magical picture will put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart.  La vie c’est bien!