Add one part Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the masterful visual director of cult hits “City of Lost Children” and “Delicatessen” (we won”t mention “Alien Resurrection”), one part romance, one part comedy and what do you get? The answer is “Amelie,” a refreshing, innovative variation of the mundane romantic comedy. If there is anyone who can prove that a sweet, optimistically romantic film does not have to follow all the rules of the normal American romantic comedy, it is Jeunet, who has crafted an odd and unique story following Amelie Poulain, a Parisian waitress trying to help the people around her.
Audrey Tautou, who may become your favorite actress by the time this film is over, plays Amelie. Amelie remains extraordinarily cute, whether she is happily setting up the sociopathic Joseph (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) with the hypochondriac Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) or being at her most evil, sabotaging the clothes and apartment of inconsiderate boss Collignon (Urbain Cancelier). We first meet Amelie as a child a narrator explains and comments on her life as her mother dies and her dad keeps her indoors due to a fictitious heart condition. Suddenly, Amelie is now an adult but the narrator remains. It is this narrator who introduces us to those around Amelie her neighbors in her apartment building and the co-workers and diners at her restaurant of employment. This narrator is good for many amusing anecdotes as he reveals the characters” likes and dislikes (which are accompanied by the appropriate images including embarrassed parents and a montage of the orgasms of Paris).
Amelie herself enjoys skipping stones and assembles quite a collection during the film. She is also unsure of her place in life not having many friends as a child, she remains introverted in her affections as an adult. A tin box containing the important possessions of a boy from the “50s is her catalyst to a possible new life. Amelie decides to change other people”s lives for the better with inventive and entertaining schemes. One of these plans brings her closer with Dufayel, an artist neighbor (Serge Merlin), who cannot leave his home due to brittle bones. Dufayel reminds Amelie that while helping others is good, she must remember to not hide from her own feelings and destiny. Amelie”s destiny may lie in the hands of mysterious Porn-shop worker Nino, who becomes Amelie”s new project. Alright, this does sound a little sappy, but great performances and unique visuals keep the films from wallowing in sentimentality.
“Amelie” starts off very strong with exciting cameras and fast paced editing, but in the middle, it lags for a while. The narration is noticeably absent during this portion as stories slowly unravel. Sustaining our interest during this sluggish portion is the wonderful Tautou. She is simply irresistible with her big brown eyes and charming undertakings. Tautou is sure to pull a Benini with this role, garnering an Oscar nomination and very possibly, a win. The cinematography is also exceptional, continuing Jeunet”s reputation for sensational, unforgettable images.
While “Amelie” may not live up to all the genius that has been bestowed upon it, this film still makes for a very pleasurable viewing experience and will introduce many unaware Americans to the magnificent talents of Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.