From a director who unleashed the murky, visionary "The City Of Lost Children," "Delicatessen" and "Alien Resurrection" (a film that I still feel reanimated the franchise) on the masses, "Amelie" (IMDb listing) might appear a little out of place. The story of a do-gooder who tries to do-good for herself might appear to be a wild change of pace for French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or at least a mild cop-out for a mind that can't stay still for one moment. A charming journey into loneliness and hope, "Amelie" shows Jeunet is ready to expand his horizons, yet he's still in love with bodily functions, closeups and frenetic camerawork.
As a child of anti-social parents, Amelie (Audrey Tautou in a breakthrough performance) grew up in her own world of make-believe and daydreams. Upon her 18th birthday, Amelie moves to Paris and begins to wonder and fantasize about the people around her. One day, Amelie decides to help a lonely man reconnect with his childhood, receiving a blast of pure joy in the process. She soon decides to help all the lonely and misguided souls she encounters every day. When her good deeds start to mount up, Amelie meets an old crush and promptly falls back in love with him. Focusing on her own life for once, Amelie gets caught up as she mounts an elaborate cat and mouse game with her unsuspecting crush, thus being able to keep him at a safe emotional distance.
"Amelie" isn't the type of picture Jeunet is typically known for. This new film is an attempt by the director to portray a more humane story that doesn't involve apocalyptic visions or slimy aliens. Yet, Jeunet isn't ready to dump all of his tricks. For instance, Amelie's introduction into the picture isn't the normal meet and greet that usually accompanies the lead's entrance. No, Jeunet (with the help of time-lapse photography) literally shows a pregnant belly going through the nine months of change, then the actual birth of Amelie. Not only is it a striking visual, but probably the best entrance by a character in some time. It is the attention-grabbing moments like this that keep the rather tepid story of "Amelie" afloat.
On the other hand, the wild cinematography might be too much to tell the story efficiently. Through the use of special effects and various camera tricks, Jeunet can convey Amelie's world vividly. It is when the picture becomes too vivid that it runs into trouble. I truly enjoy how Jeunet enhances a scene with intricate camera placement and visual artifice, but by the end of the film I just wanted him to stop trying so hard.
In the title role, Audrey Tautou lights up the screen with her Juliette Binoche good looks and gigantic "Bambi" eyes. It's not a terribly difficult role, for she is playing second fiddle to Jeunet's visual wizardry, yet Tautou must anchor the bizarre nature of the picture with her performance. And she succeeds fantastically. Avoiding the Dogme 95 downward spiral of the innocent lead to societal slaughter, Tautou uses her innocence, but isn't defined by it. Jeunet wisely chooses to include a scene in the opening of the picture of Amelie having sex as a way of diffusing concern for the curious girl. This leaves the audience with a little more confidence in Amelie and allows Tautou more depth in this role of a very sweet, but not ignorant, young woman.
If "Amelie" is the new step for Jeunet, then I applaud the change. If he can find a better balance between his beloved camera antics and his obvious passion for storytelling, than his career masterpiece is getting closer at hand.
Filmfodder Grade: B+