I have only recently developed an affection for the fine art of film, and as a result I am noticeably less skilled in its analysis than Mr. Raffel. This doesn't stop me from sharing my feelings on the films I see, as I'm intelligent enough to be able to recognize a remarkable film when I see one. Although we focus on horror and cult offerings on this site, we occasionally change things up a bit by introducing our readers to films in other genres. The French film Amélie is one of my favorite films of 2001, and it has recently been released on DVD here in the States. And while this film is a startling departure from our usual fare, with an open mind I'm sure you'll find a lot to like in Amélie.
You might dismiss Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain as an "artsy-fartsy" film simply because of its French origin, but that simply isn't the case. Amélie can be best be described as a romantic comedy, and as you probably know, movies simply don't get more mainstream than that. Although these types of films are usually a dime-a-dozen over here, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) has crafted a film possessed of beauty, warmth and character, and the strength of the cast, along with his very particular vision of Paris, enables the film to exceed the boundaries of its mainstream appeal. It may be fluff, but it's really good fluff.
This charming film tells the tale of shy young Amélie Poulain, who daydreams her way through life working as a waitress at a local Parisian cafe. Since her childhood, Amélie has been more content to exist in her own private world rather than face the rigors of reality. But a chance discovery of a childs' tin box threatens to change all that, as Amélie decides to do whatever it takes to return the item to its long-lost owner. Accomplishing said task, and seeing the joy her simple act had brought the recipient, convinces her that helping others find happiness will in turn bring her the happiness she seeks. Her good deeds bring a strange sense of harmony to her life, but she lacks the courage to do the same for herself as the object of her affections (local oddball Nino) continues to elude her. I'll let you take it from there, although I'm sure you can see where the film is headed.
The acting in Amélie is excellent, especially the captivating performance of the pixie-like Audrey Tautou, who brings a child-like sense of wonderment to the title character. (She's much sweeter than the cover photo would indicate, trust me.) Mathieu Kassovitz is similarly appealing in his portrayal of Nino, while Jenuet favorites Dominique Pinon and Yolande Moreau head up an eclectic and amusing supporting cast. The musical score is simply brilliant, as the accordion, banjo, piano and harpsichord arrangements of Yann Tiersen bring a sentimental feeling to an already sentimental film. His score is decidedly French in nature and heightens the emotions portrayed in the film perfectly.
Amélie is a gorgeous film thanks to expert photography and obsessive attention to detail. Each set is painstakingly dressed with all manner of minutiae, and Jeunet enhances these sets through a masterful use of vivid reds, greens and blues. The world of Amélie is brought to life with sweeping outdoor shots and intimate interior sequences, as well as a digitally-enhanced interpretation of modern day Paris. The breath-taking result is a French world that only exists in the directors' dreams, an appropriate analog to the theme of the film. The only negative is Jeunets' over-reliance on digital effects, many of which are patently unnecessary. The actors are more than capable of capturing the emotion of the moment, so seeing Amélie dissolve into a puddle of water after a failed meeting with Nino seems cartoony and out of place. But that's nit-picking, really, as Amélie is a gem of a movie that shouldn't be missed.
Miramax presents Amélie in its original scope aspect ratio (2.35:1) in this handsome two-disc set. The film looks absolutely magnificent on DVD, with clean edges, vibrant colors and deep black levels. This is definitely one of the sharpest DVD movies I've ever seen, and it seems only fitting that this beautiful movie receive such a beautiful transfer. The movie supports widescreen enhancement but looks spectacular even without it, and will no doubt remind you why you spent all that money on your expensive home theater system. This is sweet, sweet eye-candy that you'll want to show your friends. Amélie sounds great as well, with a crisp 5.1 soundtrack that brings to life the dialogue and music without the extreme difference in volume that you hear in other DVDs (Fight Club comes to mind). The audiovisual quality in this set is excellent and will likely please the most discerning of DVD viewers.
Disc One contains the movie and audio commentary with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (in English and French), but his thick accent unfortunately obscures many of his comments. Disc Two contains a respectable set of bonus features that compliment the film nicely. In addition to the standard filmographies, storyboard comparisons and photo collections, the disc presents a series of Q-and-A interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and select cast members), along with audition footage and candid home movies. The true gem of the collection is a documentary entitled "The Look of Amélie", in which Jeunet describes how he and his crew set about filming Amélie and molding present-day Paris to match his vision for the film. This is required viewing for those interested in the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking process.
I'm happy to see Amélie receive the proper DVD treatment it deserves. The combination of superb audiovisual quality and robust bonus features make this set a must-have for fans of the film. While I generally despise romantic comedies (with good cause), every aspect of this movie comes together perfectly to create a memorable cinematic experience. It's not quite horror, and it's not quite cult, but Amélie is a funny, charming and downright beautiful film worthy of your time. After all, even gorehounds need a change of pace every once in a while.