Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Yolande Moreau, Artus de Penguern, Urbain Cancelier, Dominique Pinon, Michel Robin

MPAA Rating: (for sexual content)

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 11/16/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is mostly known, if known at all, to most American audiences as the visionary man behind The City of the Lost Children, and some people may, without even knowing it, have seen his work in Alien: Resurrection. Amélie (or Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, as it is known in France) is a strong and stylistic venture into the romantic comedy, but unlike so many other drab, predictable, and dull romantic comedies, this is a joyous and visually inspired work filled with as much imagination as the title character’s world allows—which just so happens to be a lot. The film is never boring and, until it concentrates on the love story, does not follow any kind of formula. Instead it flows through this woman’s life in an almost episodic fashion, giving us so many small pleasures, we cannot help but fall in love with it.

Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) lives a seemingly ordinary life. She works at a local cafe and is quite unsociable. Her childhood, though, was filled with such strange events, that it seems the rest of her life must be heading somewhere important. Her pet goldfish, her only real friend in the world, had to be set free because it was suicidal in confinement. Her father, a doctor, never paid too much attention to her, and as a result, whenever he would give her a physical exam, her heartbeat would increase, which he diagnosed as a heart condition. Worst of all, her mother was killed when a tourist from Quebec jumped off a cathedral as they were exiting. So Amélie goes through her life, until one day she hears the news that Princess Diana has died and, in an instance of more coincidence, discovers an old tin full of a young boy’s toys and a photo. She makes it her vow to find this man, and if he responds in any emotional way, she will make it her life’s goal to do good for people.

Among some of the other people she helps are a woman whose husband died in a plane crash and whose last correspondence stated that he was with another woman, her father who never took the world trip he wanted to take after his wife died, a mysterious old man in her building with a condition that makes his bones extremely fragile, a man who yearns after an ex-girlfriend who works at the cafe, and a fellow employee who is a hypochondriac. She also makes life better for more people she meets but surprisingly makes life uncomfortable for a mean grocer. She will go into his apartment and do little things, like switch his sandals and change his light-bulbs, and while they’re funny, I wonder why she does not try and help him as she does everyone else. Obviously the man is in need of some cheering up, or else he wouldn’t act the way he does. But besides that minor quibble, Amélie is a mostly humanist film, looking for the inherent good in people.

The plotting is somewhat similar to that used in Serendipity where fate and chance have a lot to do with what transpires in the film, although it’s easy to say that Amélie is much more successful in accomplishing it. Amélie has the feel of a modern-day, adult fairy-tale. The special effects serve the story, and they are very effective. Both of these elements must have been a help for Jeunet’s style, which employs ample camera tricks, title cards and narration, and some scenes in which characters break the fourth wall. All of it comes together nicely, and it never seems pretentious or a case of style over substance. Once the romantic comedy element become the film’s focus, it does tend to be formulaic. Although there is a slight difference in the way that the romantic interests are kept apart. All too often in Hollywood romantic comedies, couples are kept apart because of the script. In Amélie, they are kept apart because of actual character traits. It’s a minor but extremely important difference, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell which a movie is using.

The characters in this film are full of quirks, and each of the actors works effectively at getting them across without seeming forced or gimmicky. I especially liked Rufus (that’s his entire name) as Amélie’s father, whose looks of confusion put the icing on the cake of an already hilarious gag involving his traveling garden gnome. Mathieu Kassovitz is good as Amélie’s love interest, a man who works in an adult gift/entertainment shop and likes to take discarded pictures from beneath photo-booths. The film belongs to Tautou, though, who plays Amélie with an always half-cocked smile. She looks like she is consistently ready to break into an ear-to-ear smile. Amélie is an adorable character, as charming (if not more) as the title character of Bridget Jones’s Diary. This is a break-through performance for an actress only known in her native country until now.

Amélie is a sweet and charming tale, stylish told and joyously performed. It’s the definition of a feel-good film, and it comes to the US at a perfect time. It’s a pleasantly hopeful and optimistic film, but it never tries to preach nor does it become too saccharine. That it’ll probably be the best romantic comedy of the year is just another nice perk.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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