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Amelie

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Raphael Poulain

(Canal+/Miramax; US DVD: 19 Jul 2011)

Returning to the romantic fairy-tale that is Amelie after a decade is not unlike returning to Paris and the girl you fell so hard for all those years ago; part of you is all excited anticipation,  and part of you fears that both the magic and the charm will have eroded with the years.


But resisting Amelie and its star Audrey Tatou in the new Blu-ray incarnation because it may not live up to the memory is like, well, resisting Paris and love itself; it’s futile. If nothing else, you know that a movie that literally sparkled with color and visual fantasy will be almost as impressive on today’s TVs as it was in theaters, and will sound far better than it ever did in most art houses.


For those fogies who have managed to resist Blu-ray, this, and not comic-book action movies with their thundering, dialogue-obliterating sound-mixes, or Neil Young box-sets, is what could inspire to make you to take the belated leap. (As Young understood, Blu-ray’s superior sound is its most saleable attraction; If you don’t believe that, compare the recent Blu-ray transfer of Band of Brothers to its initial HBO broadcast or DVD release; it’s the difference between watching WWII and feeling as if you’re fighting it.) Amelie may seem even more lightweight than it did at first blush, but considering that most unabashed audience-pleasers these days want to throttle you into submission, its lack of phony gravitas is refreshing.


Had it not been for those who were impressed by it being nominated for four Academy Awards besides Best Foreign Language film, Amelie might have come and gone like Jeunet’s other films, including the farce Delicatessen and the metaphoric fantasy City of Lost Children. French films were already on the wane whenAmelie was released in North America, and one has to wonder that if today, it might have been quietly buried and remade in English, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, instead of given the grand launch that the much-missed, pre-Disney Miramax afforded it.


Even if you don’t swoon for Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurent’s whimsical story of a ridiculously cute Cupid who falls for her arrow’s target, you are likely tumble for Tatou, whose given name, and overall adorableness, conveniently recall another iconic gamine. Tatou was so impressive that Hollywood quickly came calling; unfortunately, her US debut was in the hit turkey that was The DaVinci Code. To say that she was miscast is to assume that some other actor could have made something out of the role, or the movie, which seems unlikely.


The French title was the more descriptive and fanciful Les fabuleux destin of d’Amelie Poulain but we should probably just be thankful that Miramax’s co-chairman, who won the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands” for his eagerness to reduce the length of foreign films he acquired, didn’t cut the film, as well. A narrator and the film’s cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel take their time easing us into the mood with a long yet lovely prologue depicting just how the young Amelie retreated into an world of wonder after she was mistakenly diagnosed with a heart condition.


Once the grown-up Amelie moves to Paris and takes a job waitressing in a Montemarte cafe, we’re all too willing to believe she would be in wide-eyed wonderment at the world, and the people, around her; she’s too in thrall with it all to complain about bunions. She fashions herself as a good fairy, quietly making magic and sprinkling it on other people she assumes need it. In the course of touching other’s hearts, she doesn’t so much delay taking care of her own needs as forget about them. Even if you’ve seen Amelie before, you are still not not disposed to see her wise, or toughen, up. You may even reprove yourself for letting reality, much less cyncism, intrude at all.


The Blu-ray carries over all the extras from the 2007 two-disc DVD edition, but this time, you may actually be disposed to watch them; there’s an especially insightful look at the film’s visual design (the color scheme was derived from the work of Brazilian painter Juarez Machado, and screen tests with Tatou and co-star Mathieu Kassovitz, who plays Amelie’s might-be boyfriend, whom she has “met” via photo-booth discards. One suspects Tatou’s test was a formality; one look at that face, and you know she’s still your girl.

Rating:

Terry Lawson was a film critic for 30 years, lastly at the Detroit Free Press, where he also contributed music and book reviews, and a weekly DVD column. He has won numerous awards for his journalism and criticism, been nominated multiple times for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, and was twice a runner-up. He has taught Screenwriting at the University of Michigan for more than a decade, and lives with his wife Kate and two feuding cats, in Bloomfield Hillls, Michigan.


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