There have been thousands of romantic comedies. I'm not sure what it says about how love is portrayed that, well, out of the thousands, all generally follow only a few different paths. The most popular is, of course, boy meets girl, they fall in love, break up and, by the last act, make up. Although there are the occasional pieces that feel original, most of them have been done in some other way. However, the appearance of a new romance that at least feels fresh and new is really an amazing thing - a movie that can connect, on some level, with one of our strongest emotions. It comes as little surprise that the director of the strongest recent effort is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a director whose films have offered phenomenal visuals, but often, they also include stories that I'm not sure I understood ("City of Lost Children") or stories that aren't strong enough to suit the remarkable craft put into the fascinating visuals (Jeunet's one attempt at Hollywood filmmaking, "Alien: Resurrection"). "Amelie" is Jeunet's marvelous success, not only offering great storytelling, but a brilliant, bold visual style.
The film stars Audrey Tautou as Amelie. Tautou has been in other films, which I have not seen, including "Happenstance", which is supposedly a similar romantic comedy, from what I've heard. However, watching "Amelie", I was convinced that no other actress would be quite so perfect for such a fairytale as this one. With her warm, round eyes, cute little haircut, perfect skin and great smile, Tautou often portrays emotions superbly with just her eyes and her smile lights up the screen.
The film opens with Amelie's childhood, as she finds herself with a pair of parents that are distant and without any friends. In one particularly funny scene, young Amelie gets revenge on one of her neighbors by unplugging the TV at the right moment, then plugging it in again. As an adult, she works in a coffee shop, going about her business alone, without a great deal of direction. One day, she accidentially finds a lost box in the wall of her apartment that belonged to a young boy that lived there ages before. She sets out to find the owner of the box, instead able to deliver it to the boy's father. When she sees the happiness that this set of long-forgotten treasures brings to the man, she sets out to do good for more people, if only those in her small part of the world.
Eventually, Amelie seeks out potential happiness for herself; she runs into porn shop worker Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz, whose directorial effort "La Haine" had better be released soon on DVD), whose hobby it is to collect discarded photo booth snapshots and put them into a book. However, romance is complicated and Amelie decides not to go about finding love in a simple manner. I've really tried to go about discussing "Amelie" without giving away any of the film's surprises. The film has some basic elements that may seem familiar, but often heads off in unexpected directions. Jeunet also has obvious respect for his characters, all of which are nicely realized and quirky, but not cartoonish (the same could be said about the universe the film has created; while it isn't our reality, maybe it could be one day). A great opening has the film telling us about the "likes" and "dislikes" of each of the characters. While it may sound silly, it's handled in a fun way that opens the film perfectly.
The appearance of "Amelie" is certainly striking. Paris, shown with bright, beautiful colors, plays a character itself in the film. The picture's cinematography, as urgent and intense as it was in Kassovitz's darker "La Haine" is full of interesting zooms, great angles and wonderful lighting. Speaking of images, there's even an appropriate amount of CGI used to add to the story.
Jeunet has really crafted a charming picture that hits its emotional notes wonderfully. This could have been a terribly sappy movie about a woman who helps people - I can imagine the American version where everytime Amelie helps someone, a swell of old-fashioned music comes up, tugging at the heart-strings. Thankfully, the director has crafted a film free of sappiness, instead creating a delightful film with a kind-hearted character that simply wants to help others in her world, a visually magical and often amazing one. Another compliment to the film is that it's tough to figure what's going to happen next and what happens is often a great delight. The tone and energy is sustained exceptionally well for 122 minutes, which only felt like 30 to me. Simply, there is great imagination and creativity at work here. Those who skip "Amelie" because of the subtitles are missing a really phenomenal and greatly enjoyable work. I can't recommend it enough.
A note: "Amelie"'s R-rating is ridiculous. Yes, there are some "adult" things shown and talked about on occasion, but they are presented in an innocent way and are only presented briefly. I'm sure that the MPAA only has some absurd system where a certain amount of a certain thing may lead to an "R", but they don't take into account how these things are presented. Anyways, a "PG-13" would have been far more appropriate for the light, sweet "Amelie".
VIDEO: "Amelie" is presented by Miramax Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is, quite frankly, one of the finest transfers that I've ever seen on a Miramax title, as well as one of the finest that I've seen in general lately. Sharpness and detail are simply phenomenal; the picture appears consistently bright, sharp and well-defined, with wonderful depth to the image, as well as excellent fine detail visible.
As for flaws, I really didn't notice anything to be concerned with. The picture showed no signs pixelation or print flaws. Some very slight edge enhancement was spotted, but even that was not nearly enough to take away from how wonderful the picture quality was otherwise. The film's vibrant color palette looked well-saturated and rich, with no smearing or other faults. Simply, this is about as good as it gets. I would be surprised if someone with the film, such as the director or cinematographer, didn't supervise this extraordinarily good presentation. The subtitles are large and easily read.
SOUND: Although I was amazed with the picture quality, the audio is quite a bit more normal. Mostly a front-heavy presentation, the surrounds are hardly put to use. However, there was a fine amount of ambience and dialogue remained clear and natural-sounding. The film is offered in French Dolby Digital 5.1 with English subtitles.
MENUS: The main menus (and some of the sub-menus) offer slight, but enjoyable animation.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which is available in both English and French (a nice touch, given the fact that the studio could have simply recorded the French track and given it English subtitles instead of recording two different versions). Jeunet's accent may be a little difficult for some to understand, but his enthusiasm and passion for the project is definitely evident. He is often very informative, talking about the backgrounds of some of the supporting actors, the story, as well as some of the technical details about the look of the film and the CGI work. He's even funny during a few instances, getting a laugh from a behind-the-scenes story or amusing comment.
The Look Of "Amelie": This featurette starts off the second disc and has Jeunet and the film's cinematographer discussing the look of the picture - both what inspired it and how it was achieved. It was quite interesting to hear about the enormous prep that Jeunet goes through so that, when shooting actually starts, the production flows smoothly because everyone knows exactly what to do in each scene. This nearly 13-minute featurette is in no way "promotional" and remains very informative about its subject.
Fantasies Of Audrey Tautou: Oddly titled, this is actually a very funny gag reel of Tautou and some of the other stars goofing up during some scenes.
Q & A with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Done at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles in 2002, this featurette starts off with a very funny moment, as the director discusses the fact that he went into his first major Hollywood production, "Alien: Resurrection", not knowing any English. The remainder of the piece nicely covers all the bases, from the inspirations for the story to casting to other production details - it starts off with an interviewer asking questions, then the audience gets their chance. Runs about 24 minutes.
Q & A with director Jeunet & cast: This piece in French with English subtitles. Here, Jeunet and members of the cast field questions from a French audience. This is a shorter piece, only running a little under 6 minutes.
Storyboard Comparison: A storyboard-to-scene comparison for one scene.
Screen Tests: Audrey Tautou, Urbain Cancelier and Yolande Moreau's screen tests are available in this section.
An Intimate Chat With Jean-Pierre Jeunet: This is a 21-minute documentary that simply has the director talking about all things "Amelie". He opens with a brief chat about DVDs and how much he enjoys the format, then starts in on how the movie came together. We learn first about title-issues and other basic building blocks, then move forward towards subjects like the controversy in Cannes, when audiences were angered that the film was essentially not accepted by the head of the festival. Jeunet also chats about casting, the great reception that the film has recieved and even shows a couple of letters from one girl who didn't know how to reach the director, but convinced the postman to find out.
Home Movies: This is a 13-minute piece that shows everything from Tautou getting her hair cut in the "Amelie" style to the crew at work on a scene. Filmed in basic fashion, this is a fun little effort that allows the viewer behind-the-scenes, if only briefly.
Trailers/TV Spots: The film's US trailer and French trailer, as well as 12 US TV spots and 5 French TV spots.
Also: Photo gallery and bios.
Final Thoughts: A joyful and delightful film full of surprises and visually stunning imagery, "Amelie" is one of the finest films I've seen in a long time and I can't recommend it enough. Miramax has put together a wonderful DVD set, complete with excellent video quality, very good audio quality and great supplements. This is a must-see DVD edition of a really great movie.