Plot: What’s it about?
In what is by far the yearÆs best comedy, Jean-Pierre JeunetÆs ôAmΘlieö is as magical, mysterious and infectiously funny as any film IÆve seen in recent memory. The French title is actually “Le Fabuleux destin d’AmΘlie Poulain,” though distributor Miramax thought it an incapable mouthful for Americans to have to pronounce, let alone fathom, at the ticket counter. With a bit of the classic charm that befell the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart films, fused with an inventively modern visual flavor, ôAmΘlieö will awaken every ounce of delight and wonder suppressed deep inside yourself.
The filmÆs riotous introduction — both dizzying and hilarious û tells the tale of six people, whose lives will eventually change forever, through the fate of Princess Diana (not the way youÆd expect) and the destiny of an old tin toy box. The opening sequence is shot in a fast-paced narrative vignette that will have you in a comical trance.
The film takes place in Montmarte, an enchanting, idealized, digital recreation of the classic Parisian world, where the word ôquaintö could be used in a million different situations. ItÆs a unique modern day fairy tale, whose 23-year-old Princess Charming, AmΘlie, is a waitress at the local cafΘ. On the day of Princess DianaÆs death, AmΘlie (played wonderfully by Audrey Tautou) discovers an old tin box of childhood mementos hidden inside her apartment wall. Intrigued by the discovery, sheÆs determined to track down the man who once hid this treasure here long ago as a child. She does so anonymously, and after seeing first-hand the profoundly magical effect sheÆs had on his life, AmΘlie is determined to follow her path to Sainthood, trying to fix the lives of those who need it most.
The movie deals with her decision to manipulate the fates of her friends and neighbors for the better (and sometimes worse), while at the same time pursuing her own enigmatic relationship with the strangely eccentric Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) — whom she encounters at the metro station assembling scrap pieces of photos heÆs found underneath a quick-photo booth. She cherishes his harmless eccentricities and it is obvious writer/director Jeunet cherishes and celebrates them in each of his characters. From AmΘlieÆs father, a war veteran who reveres above all else a porcelain gnome he received from his military unit, to Dufayel (Serge Merlin), a painter who paints Renoir’s “Luncheon on the Boat” over and over again, unable to capture the essence of the mysterious woman located in the center, to AmΘlie, who constantly collects perfect skipping stones along the street to skip in the river, each character is a vivid statement about the free spirit of ingenuity and uniqueness. ôAmΘlieö brilliantly captures these individuals in their moment, and thanks to TautouÆs performance, the film comes together in a glorious tapestry of memorable characters and situations.
Tautou is innocence perfected. Her smile is infectious and loveable, and her cute, quirky persona is a full of surprises, as is JeunetÆs film. The visual effects are some of the most inventive you will ever see, and unlike his American counterparts, he weaves them seamlessly into the storyline. Jeunet, who helmed the outlandishly surrealistic visual treat ôThe City of Lost Childrenö (1995) as well as the forgettable ôAlien: Ressurection,ö seems to have finally mastered the art of fusing visual effects into a storyline. In one stunning scene (among many), AmΘlie tries to maintain her anonymity to her true love Nino as he walks into the cafΘ. After being questioned, she embarrassingly walks away. As Nino leaves we see her literally melt off the screen and onto the floor, spilling out onto the tiles as her internal feelings become external reactions. SheÆs completely entwined to her world, as is every other participant, animated or not.
Video: How does it look?
A lavish, two-disc special edition is what we’re given here and I’d be hard-pressed to find a handful of movies that look this great on DVD. True, it’s made that way, it’s made to look very warm and vibrant (a far cry from the dark and dismal "Alien: Resurrection"), but the stylized Paris that the film takes place in looks positively stunning! The 2.35:1 transfer doesn’t suffer from any thing, expect maybe a tinge of edge enhancement, that detracts form the film. Colors, as mentioned before, a warm and every scene seems to have a yellowish hue to it that gives the film a good feeling. A scene that always struck me was when Amelie skips rocks; truly amazing. Black levels are dead on target and the level of detail is amazing. Disney’s transfers are usually fairly good, but they’ve stepped it up a notch with their efforts here. Top notch.
Audio: How does it sound?
One might not think that a foreign movie, a comedy at that, would supply a fairly strong soundtrack. Wrong. Amelie has some very good moments when it comes to sound, but it’s not as "in your face" as some others out there. The general ambience of the film borders on excellent, the dialogue sounds clean too (though just so you know, it’s in the original French soundtrack as no English track is provided…yep, you’re going to have to read for a few hours). The LFE is present throughout the film and at times makes itself very known. This isn’t reference quality by any means, but I was duly impressed; you will be as well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Probably the only Two-Disc set that is not a "Vista" release, Amelie comes packed with all sorts of supplements. The movie is housed on the first disc as are two feature-length commentaries. The tracks are both by the director, Jean-Pierre Junet. One track is in English and the other in his native French. Naturally I had no idea what the guy was saying in French, as no translation was supplied, but suffice it to say that he had a lot more to say than in his English track. Still, his English track is pretty good, full of some little tidbits and facts here and there. His broken English is pretty good, but it’s a good effort for the two tracks. People who are fluent in French will really love this disc!
The rest of the supplements are located on the second disc, and we start out with a 20 minute interview with Junet. He adds to what he said in the commentary track, how the film came to be and the evolution of the title (it’s different in French). Interesting, and if you’re looking for some more little tidbits, then this is what you’re looking for. Also shown are some Q & A sessions with he and the actors at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Some "home movie" footage is shown, though there’s no dialogue it does show a bit as to what the cast and crew went through to achieve the distinctive look of "Amelie". Some audition tapes are also shown and it’s interesting to see how the Amelie character focused around her look (much like she has a secret and is just about to tell you), while the other members of the crew were just reading dialogue. There are some trailers from the United States and France as well as some cast and crew bios. An Amelie Scrapbook is also shown, which is just a fancy way of saying "Production Stills"! I might have missed a few of the supplements, and I was a bit surprised that the commentary tracks weren’t even listed on the outside of the box. Amelie is a great little foreign film, and this is coming from someone who isn’t too fond of them. The disc is reference quality in terms of video and a good audio track as well. Plenty of supplements will keep fans busy for hours. Highly recommended.