I contemplated a return visit to the French hit Amelie almost as soon as it was over.Also known overseas as Amélie from Montmartre and Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, it is the story of a 23 year-old waitress from Montmartre (Audrey Tautou) who determines to improve the lives of those around her, in accordance with her finely developed sense of justice. It is also about her unexpected romantic pursuit of Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a man who works on a carnival ghost train and in a sex shop, and pieces together discarded photos from passport booths.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet made Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children with Marc Caro, and the Hollywood sequel Alien: Resurrection. Each was largely studio-bound, with a distinctively grimy-coloured look. When he took to the streets of Montmartre, Jeunet had a specific image of Paris in mind. He realised it with the assistance of digital effects - to erase unwanted passers-by, and alter the weather, skyline and cityscape where it didn’t conform to his vision. The result is Paris as you may imagine it, not as you remember it. But it’s appropriate for Jeunet’s sunny and optimistic notion of the title character. Also making vital contributions to the look of the film are designer Aline Bonetto, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and editor Hervé Schneid.
Jeunet, who developed the story with screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, composes Amelie like a puzzle; every element is neatly used and accounted for. The film makes a star out of the winsome Audrey Tautou. She retains her charm without ever resorting to cuteness, and it’s heartbreaking when she’s sad. Kassovitz is a marvellous actor. He’s probably best known to Australian audiences for writing and directing La Haine (Hate) in 1995, and his starring role in Un héros très discret (A Self-Made Hero, 1996). He manages to be as intriguing as Tautou without distracting from her performance. Each brings a strong sense of wonder to their introverted characters. It’s magically romantic when they connect.
André Dussollier provides the voice of the omniscient narrator, who recounts everything from details of a protagonist’s childhood to the likes and dislikes of subsidiary characters. And Yann Tierson’s score expertly matches the film’s shifts in mood from poignancy to humour.Amelie has attracted a snowballing critical backlash since it opened in France last May, but the criticisms of it as “too light” are nonsense. How can a film about love and romance and destiny and fate be inconsequential? The only niggling concern I had while watching it was the apparent absence of non-Caucasians from Amelie’s Paris, which seemed at odds with the film’s otherwise tolerant and inclusive charm. Was there insufficient room in Jenuet’s conception for everyone?