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With: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Dominique Pinon, Isabelle Nanty, Serge Merlin
Written by: Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 122
Date: 19/03/2013
IMDB

Amélie (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Something Lovely This Waif Comes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The term "magic" -- as relating to movies and not just the word for a witch's spell or a magician conjuring a rabbit -- was long ago co-opted by the likes of Disney and Spielberg. The Disney and Spielberg corporate machines turned "magic" into just another gear in the works, with shots of awed actors gazing at something amazing followed by some jaw-dropping special effects shot.

It's been a long time that something truly magical, not phony or manufactured, has graced the silver screen. So Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie (a.k.a. Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) comes as a most welcome new gem. It deserves to be cherished, hugged and celebrated.

Audrey Tautou (Venus Beauty Institute) stars in the title role, an adorable, waifish little darling who reminded me, by turns, of Charlie Chaplin, Giulietta Masina and Audrey Hepburn. On the day of Princess Diana's death, Amélie finds a little box hidden in the bathroom of her little Montmarte apartment: a little boy's treasure chest from years gone by. She decides to return it to its now grown-up owner without revealing herself to him. When she sees the man's reaction -- shock, joy and tears -- she vows to perform more good deeds.

Most of these deeds involve a great deal of clever preparation, and these play out like the "Mousetrap" game, where one seemingly unconnected move leads to another one and they all logically connect only at the end.

For example, an incredibly sour man sits around in the cafe where Amélie works pining after his ex-girlfriend who also works there. Using several small, nearly untraceable steps, Amélie plants the seeds for new love between the man and a dowdy, hypochondriac woman who works the cigarette counter.

This and the many wonderful other episodes never run back to back. They're cleverly intertwined with one another, keeping the mysteries moving along at the right speed.

Of course, Amélie's greatest challenge is to find love herself, which is not easy for such a shy girl who can't even show up to take credit for her own good deeds. In one scene, after she lets her potential soulmate Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) walk away from her door, she literally melts (thanks to some brilliantly-utilized CGI effects).

The movie begins daringly, with a narrated flashback to Amélie's childhood explaining her quirky personality and running some 20-odd minutes before the actual story even begins. This talky, cartoony sequence had the potential to alienate viewers quickly. But instead it easily and quickly sets up the film's warmth, humor and charm that it sustains perfectly throughout.

It's difficult to describe the look of the film, which is painstakingly precise, but colorful, airy and alive at the same time. It's like a Chuck Jones cartoon, but slower, and like an MGM musical, but faster. In order to get the precise vision of sunniness and goodness he wanted, director Jeunet digitally altered Montmarte's look, taking out the garbage and graffiti, and even changing the clouds above into more decorative shapes. It's a utopian vision of how great the world could really be if generosity were traded regularly and not hoarded like gold.

Amélie shows a completely unusual side of Jeunet, who created the dark, bizarre underworlds of Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children (both co-directed by his former collaborator Marc Caro) and Alien Resurrection. Jeunet has now expunged all traces of weirdness and darkness to make this lovely new confection.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon proved that American mass audiences can and will sit through a movie with subtitles, and I suspect that the subtitles on the French-language Amélie will likewise not deter them. This is a movie that audiences all over the world have treasured, and America shouldn't be any different.

I also foresee Oscar nominations for Ms. Tautou, Mr. Jeunet, and one big one for Best Picture (that is if distributor Miramax can let go of its quasi-talented "prestige" director Lasse Hallstrom and his new film The Shipping News and put its muscle behind this one instead). Like Amélie herself, I'm moved to do a good deed and share this movie with everyone.

DVD Details: Miramax's excellent 2-disc set comes with a beautiful transfer of the film, plus tons of extras: several featurettes, interviews, audition tapes, storyboards, trailers, TV spots, filmographies, a scrapbook and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

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