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Pick of the Week:
"Amelie" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine

Guide Rating -  

"She'll change your life."

Length: 122 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content

Nominated for five Academy Awards, "Amelie" is a whimsical, fable-like French-language comedy. The film was a big international hit during its theatrical release, and I found it very entertaining when I watched it at home recently on DVD. The movie comes packaged as a two-disc DVD set that contains lots of extras, including two director's commentary tracks, one in English and the other in French.

Set in a romanticized Paris, "Amelie" is feather light. The movie has two very good things going for it: (1) an appealing look achieved by digitally massaging shots taken at great locations and on charming sets; and (2) the charisma of lead actress Audrey Tautou, who plays the title role. For me, these strengths outweighed the film's tendency to become cloying.

"Amelie" begins with a ten-minute outline of the title character's unhappy childhood and then fast-forwards to 1997, where we come upon Amelie as a painfully shy young woman who is 23 years old. She works as a waitress at a small Montmartre café called Les 2 Moulins. She lives alone in a nearby flat and has no friends.

The story is set in motion when Amelie discovers a box of child's treasures hidden in her flat by a boy 40 years earlier. She resolves to find the owner of the box and return it to him. If he is touched, she will become a regular do-gooder. Amelie is eventually successful in returning the box, and when she observes the owner's emotional reaction, she sets out on a series of acts of kindness that turn her life around.

The movie cleverly interweaves the events that take place when Amelie helps others. In one story thread, she kindles a romantic relationship between the tobacconist at the café and one of the regular customers, and they end up having rambunctious sex in the washroom. In another thread, Amelie forges a letter to a widow that makes the woman happy because it convinces her that her late husband loved her. But in the most entertaining thread, Amelie returns a lost scrapbook to a young man named Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) who works in a sex shop, and she becomes romantically attracted to him along the way.

The look of "Amelie" is what I like best about it: Amelie, dressed in red, skipping stones on a canal bathed in green; the beauty of Sacré Coeur as Nino climbs the steps leading up to it; the expressions on Audrey Tautou's face. The story doesn't amount to much, and the characters aren't realistic. I did find "Amelie" to be a feel-good movie, but I would have felt even better if it had been 20 or 30 minutes shorter. And I should mention that, for me, "Amelie" wears thin quickly with repeated viewings.

Disc Two of the two-disc set contains a number of reasonably interesting bonus materials. "The Look of 'Amelie'" is a discussion in English by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel of how they gave the film its dazzling look. "Fantasies of Audrey Tautou" gives additional looks at the expressive face of the movie's leading lady, including some outtakes. There's an English-language question-and-answer session with Jeunet that took place at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. There's also a Q-and-A session with Jeunet, Tautou, Kassovitz, and actor Jamel Debbouze, but this one's in French. "An Intimate Chat With Jean-Pierre Jeunet" shows the director sitting in a chair and delivering a 20-minute monologue in rapid-fire French about "Amelie." The "Home Movies" featurette shows some fairly interesting documentary footage of the making of "Amelie." And there are a few other extras on the DVDs, most of which I have listed below.

Selected Special Features on the DVDs:

  • Two-Disc Set
  • Commentary Track With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (in English)
  • Commentary Track With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (in French)
  • The Look of "Amelie"
  • Fantasies of Audrey Tautou
  • Screen Tests
  • Q & A With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  • Q & A With Director and Cast
  • Storyboard Comparison
  • An Intimate Chat With Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  • "Home Movies" Inside the Making of "Amelie"
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots
  • The "Amelie" Scrapbook
  • Cast and Crew Filmographies
  • Sneak Peaks

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