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Current theatrical release

Chris Dahlen

This week I got whacked in the face by the cutest, most whimsical film of the year. A film so cute and whimsical that if it had had songs—and I don't know why it didn't—everyone in the theater would still be humming them.

... and lips that could crack a walnut ...

The film was Amelie. Its original French title, "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain," translates to the very whimsical "The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Foal." Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of the whimsical but grim Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, Amelie stars the irrepressibly cute Audrey Tautou as the title character, a young woman with a fantastic imagination, a hopelessly shy personality, and a frighteningly big smile. As much as there is a story, it begins when Amelie, introverted and living alone in an adorable Paris neighborhood, finds someone's childhood treasure in her apartment. She returns it to its now-adult owner and witnesses his poignant joy at the discovery of his lost memories. (The French call this "la recherche du temps perdu.") This good deed prompts more good deeds, and pranks, and soon she's anonymously spreading joy to the Parisians around her.

There's also a love story, which is the only real arc and the best part of the movie.

Tautou is unbelievably cute here. Jeunet films her to be so perfect and adorable that you keep wanting her to fart. She glows like a 1,000 watt bulb, and it's to Tautou's credit that she can convey an impression of introversion and shyness while Jeunet is canonizing her as St. Cute of Cutessisi. The world that Jeunet drops her in is also gay and imaginative, with tons of clever and interesting tangents and side stories. You can imagine Jeunet filling journal after journal with cool ideas, and too many of them are jammed into the movie. With so much setting and so little story, one can get lost in the subplots with no real reference point as to the progress of the film, and no idea how long it's been running or what will make it end. It's not unpleasant, but you end up in a kind of whimsy freefall.

I'm a fan of Jeunet's movies—especially his collaborations with Marc Caro. I loved Delicatessen. Like Amelie, it's not the most profound work in the French cinematic tradition, but the non-stop rush of imagination is captivating. However, while his earlier films mixed the grim and dark with the happy, Amelie is all sugar-coating. Jeunet had the misfortune to direct the third Alien sequel, Alien: Resurrection, a dark, dirge-like film that's saved by Jeunet's flair for comic relief; Amelie, on the other hand, almost needs a vicious monster to come in and kill people—preferably the entire staff of the cafe where Amelie works, who cause the film's most disposable side stories.

Of course, it's easy to rationally criticize the film later; while it's running, Amelie is infectious. It genuinely made me smile. There are many shots of people enjoying simple things—peeling paste off your hands, skipping stones, putting on the slippers that you leave right in front of your comfy chair. I know about symbolism. These are clearly symbols for Amelie herself, who's a simple pleasure. There are also some weird allusions to Princess Di, one of the most famous do-gooders of modern times, but I chose not to think about that too much.










Related resources

Check out the official site for the movie. Be sure to turn on your speakers so you can hear the theme music. See how long you can listen to it. If you can't make it for two hours, you might reconsider seeing this film.

There's an interesting interview with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in the Onion AV Club archives.