AMELIE (1998) 

Audrey Tautou
Mathieu Kassovitz
Isabelle Nanty
Clotilde Mollet
Jamel Debbouze
Claire Maurier
Serge Merlin
Dominique Pinon

Jean-Pierre Jeunet




Time: 122 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Romance/Comedy/Fantasy

Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Sound, Cinematography and Best Foreign Film.

The main reason I finally went to see this French tale of friendship and love is it's director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. His innovative visual style transforms life onto a whole different plane. Most Americans know him as the man behind the visually stunning, yet horribly scripted ALIEN: RESURRECTION. If you've ever seen any of his other films, you know the shear awfulness of the fourth installment in that venerable series was not his fault. I can't imagine what attracted a man known for creative and quirky work to such a pressure-filled franchise. In any case, AMELIE takes him back to where he belongs – the French cinema. Though I haven't seen many French films, they seem to have a quality to them, rarely, if ever, attained by American filmmakers. I guess we're just too cynical and realistic to believe in the magic of love and the power of life. Maybe if we had a city like Paris....

With the holidays over and real life looming, I was desperate for a cinema treat that would take me away. I couldn't have chosen better. All I knew about AMELIE was that it's the story of a young woman who has a profound affect on the lives of those around her. It was enough to intrigue me...that and the critical raves from every front. The film begins with a bang and never lets go. The note struck is both extremely witty and desperately sad. We learn through an intricate sequence of quick cuts and omniscient voice-over all about Amelie's childhood and family, bringing us up to the current day...when her life is about to dramatically change. Hers has not been an exciting existence: she waitresses at a small cafe, has never been in love and yearns for her father to truly notice her. She has no real friends, preferring to spend her time in her own fantasy world. When she accidently discovers an age-old childhood treasure hidden in her apartment, she decides to be a doer of good, to help people reclaim what's lost in their lives, which sets her own journey in motion.

"A woman without love wilts like a flower without sun."

It goes without saying that this crusade to help others is what finally enables her to open up to life and discover what's been lacking in her own. She encounters her soul mate, played by Mathieu Kassovitz, in the Metro station, but is terrified of exposing her true nature to him, of taking the chance of being rejected. While flirting with a meeting – they use a photo booth and flyers to communicate with each other – she sets about helping or harming the other people in her life. She opens the mind of the old painter trapped in his home to life outside his walls. She tortures the local grocer for constantly belittling his sweet-natured, if dimwitted, stock boy by secretly doctoring items in his home to drive him crazy. She rekindles the love between her landlady and her deceased husband, who left her bitter and alone. Through petty thievery and worldly mischief, she utterly dismays her father in order to get him to finally leave his house and see the world. Her deeds make her feel good and important, but none of them fill her heart or dissipate her loneliness. Fortunately, she has her own guardian angel, who forces her to leave her comfortable make-believe world and experience life for herself.

What I'm failing to communicate is how funny and enchanting this film is. Audrey Tatou will steal your heart as Amelie. Much like Natalie Wood, her big dark eyes grab hold of your soul and refuse to let go. Her performance is breathtaking, oozing sadness and desperation even while being a naughty minx. Though mainly a love story, this film takes one on a thoroughly enjoyable adventure into the lives of these everyday Parisians. What makes it so captivating is that their troubles are much like our own. They're just trying to find a little joy in life, a place where they belong, someone to validate their existence. The film's sense of character and place, camera movement and art direction make this world dance before your eyes. It is a vibrant, energetic place, where seconds count and hope looms around every corner. The first kiss Amelie and her new lover share is one of the sweetest and most heartfelt I have seen in a very, very long time. It's as if they've known each other all their lives and have finally returned home.

This may not be a unique story, but it is a highly original retelling of the age-old boy meets girl tale. Believe me, they've never met quite like this before. Their obstacles are internal, yet just as encumbering. The outward game they play is extremely unusual and entertaining. If you're looking for something different, that will make you feel good about life without whacking you over the head with a message, you won't want to miss this movie. Sure, having to read the whole time has its drawbacks, but the visuals more than make up for it and the language only adds to the romance. Why is it everything sounds sexier in French? The film lags a bit when Tatou is off-screen, but thankfully that's not very often. A real gem I look forward to seeing again.

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