An inventive masterpiece
|Starring:||Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Yolande Moreau, Serge Merlin|
While intricately intelligent comedies in America are slowly wilting away, giving rise to a new breed of instant gratification low-brow shtick (courtesy of the Farrelly Bros., and the dozens of clones who’ve followed in their footsteps), it’s nice to know the French have finally got our back on this one.
In what is by far the year’s best comedy, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amélie” is as magical, mysterious and infectiously funny as any film I’ve seen in recent memory. The French title is actually “Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie 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, “Amélie” will awaken every ounce of delight and wonder suppressed deep inside yourself.
The film’s riotous introduction — both dizzying and hilarious – tells the tale of six people, whose lives will eventually change forever, through the fate of Princess Diana (not the way you’d 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 “quaint” could be used in a million different situations. It’s a unique modern day fairy tale, whose 23-year-old Princess Charming, Amélie, is a waitress at the local café. On the day of Princess Diana’s death, Amélie (played wonderfully by Audrey Tautou) discovers an old tin box of childhood mementos hidden inside her apartment wall. Intrigued by the discovery, she’s 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 she’s had on his life, Amélie 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 he’s 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 Amélie’s 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 Amélie, 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. “Amélie” brilliantly captures these individuals in their moment, and thanks to Tautou’s 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 Jeunet’s 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 “The City of Lost Children” (1995) as well as the forgettable “Alien: Ressurection,” seems to have finally mastered the art of fusing visual effects into a storyline. In one stunning scene (among many), Amélie tries to maintain her anonymity to her true love Nino as he walks into the café. 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. She’s completely entwined to her world, as is every other participant, animated or not.
It’s a world I hope could co-exist within our own occasionally mundane way of life. For Jeunet, the film is an unforgettable triumph that deserves a nomination for Best Film at the Oscars. For the rest of us, we could all go for a bit of Amélie in our lives.