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Amélie [Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain] (2001)


    "One of my first loves was cartoons," Mr. Jeunet said. With his spiky hair, stubble- covered moon face and impish smile, he looks like
    a cuddlier, chubbier version of the British artist Damien Hirst. "In fact, my first short films were experiments with animation," he said.
    This influence is palpable in every frame of "Amélie," which frequently resembles a live-action homage to the cartoonist Tex Avery.
        -'Amélie': Going Sweet and Sentimental Has Its Rewards (Daniel Zalewski, 10/28/01, NY Times)

Though overcute, overlong, and overcontrived, this film has such an appealing star (Audrey Tautou), tries so hard to please, and is so unexpectedly sunny (coming from France), that its flaws can be forgiven.  But at least two of those flaws are worth noting.  The first is that the cartoonishness mentioned above makes it seem as if the director is trying to distance himself from the romanticism and sweetness of his own film.  This unfortunate failure of nerve leads to a kind of self-contradictory effect, as the Tex Avery touches get wheeled out every time Mr. Jeunet seems to be embarrassed by the sentimentality of a situation he's just presented.  This may help him keep his credibility with his fellow French filmmakers but necessarily weakens what should be some of the films finer moments.  Still, if you're willing to get in the cartoon spirit they won't bother you too much.

The more serious problem concerns a quintessentially French, or at least European, aspect of the plot.  The film, like Clueless, represents a modern take on Jane Austen's Emma, with its story of a young woman meddling in the love lives of those around her.  However, while Emma is one of the most underrated political novels of all time precisely because it shows the disastrous results of Emma's what we might call central planning, Amélie assumes that such interventions would have uniformly happy results.  Oddly enough for such an otherwise whimsical movie it betrays the flaw of rationality, in its conceit that those things which Amelie can imagine would work out well continually do so.  In fact, Mr. Jeunet says that people have told him that he inspired them to become Amélies themselves.    One shudders to think of these film-addled Frenchwomen roaming the land fixing up peoples' lives the way they think they should be.   Mr. Jeunet and his followers would do well to recall the words of the great Eric Hoffer :

    A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs
    by minding other people's business.

This, though Mr. Jeunet seems to have missed it, must be the point even of his own film.  The inherent drama lies in Amelie's attempt to fill her own empty life, which if we really had the godlike powers she improbably demonstrates might not be so empty.  But since we don't and since we are ultimately not really either responsible for nor competent to govern the lives of others, the plot of the film has to build to the moment when Amélie herself embraces the possibility of love.

Ms Tautou is so compelling an actress that we do indeed rejoice when this moment comes, and we have a pleasant enough time along the way.  But Mr. Jeunet needlessly lessens the tension with both his Bugs Bunny antics and his gallic certainty that our lives can be run better for us by others than we run them ourselves.  If only he'd imbibed the lessons of Jane Austen as deeply as those of Tex Avery it would be an even better picture.

(Reviewed:31-Aug-02)

Grade: (B+)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Jean-Pierre Jeunet  (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY :  Audrey Tautou (Imdb.com)
    -PROFILE : French actress stars in 'Amelie' (Kelly Carter,  11/01/2001, USA TODAY)
    -ESSAY : 'Amélie': Going Sweet and Sentimental Has Its Rewards (DANIEL ZALEWSKI, October 28, 2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : The Amelie Effect (Frederic Bonnaud, Film Comment)
    -INTERVIEW : It's hard for me to play romantic. I come across as a bit of a jerk' : How did one of Europe's most
controversial movie directors become one of its hottest actors? Mathieu Kassovitz tells all to Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian, August 6, 2001)
    -ARTICLE : 'Amélie' capturing world's fancy  (Carrie Bell, 1 1/01/2001, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (James Berardinelli's ReelViews)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Elvis Mitchell, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Peter Preston, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Neil Smith, BBCi)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (BRUCE KIRKLAND, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Jeffrey M. Anderson, SF  Examiner)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Rita Kempley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Desson Howe, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Jason Anderson, Eye Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Eric Wittmershaus, Flak)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Andrew Howe, Film Written)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Stefan Steinberg, World Socialist Website)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles, FilmHead.com)
    -REVIEW : of Amélie (Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall)

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