Amélie
aka Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain
Reviewed in May 2002
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, Rufus, Artus de Penguern, Yolande Moreau, Urbain Cancelier, Jamel Debbouze, Isabelle Nanty, Dominique Piņon, Clotilde Mollet, Claire Maurier, Maurice Bénichou. Screenplay: Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Photo © 2001 UGC/Claudie Ossard Productions, Miramax Films
Is it just me, or does Audrey Tautou look like an alien on those Amélie posters? If so, it's hardly false advertising: the particolored vision of Paris that erupts from the screen is a bizarre, joyfully confounding spectacle, as though Martians had spent time in France and were fancifully flaunting their memories to unfamiliar eyes. Like Moulin Rouge, another eye-popping 2001 release set in and around Montmartre, Amélie charms with its excesses instead of merely overloading us with them because the editing, the music, and the narration are all speeding by too rapidly to take its elaborate constructions too seriously. Each frame contains a banquet of creative concoctions that beg to be seen in a theater, where you can't cheat by hitting the Pause button and digging around for all the details. Amélie works best because it flies, because it knows we can't keep up with it, and by showing us such tantalizing flashes of visual inspiration that we try to keep up anyway.

Eventually the film gives out and so do we: the long-postponed romantic fusion (geez, am I revealing anything?) of the Tautou and Kassovitz characters takes about 15 minutes too long. The problem is more than protraction, which is discomfiting enough. The real issue is that, with all this artificial deferral of the love plot, Amélie disingenuously pretends that the romantic union is anywhere near the site of the audience's real investment. The thinness of Amélie's story and the hyperthickness of its mise-en-scène form a nicely complementary pair for as long as they're kept in the appropriate balance. Even if Amélie Poulain's fabuleux destin turns out to be standard romantic-comedy territory, the thrills lie emphatically in how she gets there. B


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Screenplay: Guillaume Laurant & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Best Foreign-Language Film
Best Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel
Best Art Direction: Aline Bonetto
Best Sound: Vincent Arnardi, Guillaume Leriche, and Jean Umansky

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Foreign-Language Film

Other Awards:
Independent Spirit Awards: Best Foreign-Language Film
European Film Awards: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Cinematography
British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best Original Screenplay: Best Production Design
César Awards (French Oscars): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Production Design; Best Original Score (Yann Tiersen)
Chicago Film Festival: Audience Award

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