Oh, 'Amélie.' Sweet, infectiously adorable 'Amélie.' Look at you, up there in the corner of the page, coyly smiling, teasing us with that seductively innocent glance. Sure you play the card of a shy introvert, but we all know your real game. After all, you were quite an indie sensation when first released in 2001, and became something of a pop culture phenomenon. Often praised, parodied, and even ridiculed by some, at your core you really are a flirtatious little minx of a film, offering candy coated, cinematic joy and life-affirming spectacles to all that fall happy victim to your eccentric appeal. Oh, 'Amélie', how I try to resist your charms, your overly stylized, saccharine world, your quirky, lovable cast of characters, your simplistically hopeful outlook. Oh, how I try. How I try, but so utterly fail. Despite every last cynical bone in my body, I, like many, can't help but embrace your sugary celebration of love. Damn you, 'Amélie,' damn you for making me smile!
From French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 'Amélie' is a quirky, comedic fantasy about lonely romantics finding love. The story primarily follows Amélie (the irresistible Audrey Tautou), a pretty young woman who can't seem to overcome her own timid shyness. When she discovers a mysterious box of mementos in her apartment hidden by a previous tenant, she embarks on a lighthearted adventure to track down the owner and return his childhood souvenirs. After succeeding in her quest and observing the happiness she was able to bring, an impetus toward good deeds is kindled inside the meek young woman, and she sets off to clandestinely spread kindness to all she knows. Eventually, she meets an equally odd young man (Mathieu Kassovitz), and she must ultimately decide whether to continue living her life like a supporting character in her own story, or instead finally seize the day and chase after love.
The script is a delightful mix of fantasy and oddly honest portrayals of humanity. The character of Amélie herself is a sparkling cinematic creation. Though easy to make fun of now, Tautou's performance is absolutely dazzling, and she brings subtle layers to the character's innocent naiveté as she slowly evolves from passive observer to active protagonist. The plot becomes a winding mosaic of episodic tales, involving a sprawling ensemble of peculiar supporting players. Each of the individual stories is developed well and watching Amélie gradually manipulate her friends into happiness is a treat to see unfold. The story is littered with a fun sense of offbeat humor and slightly exaggerated scenarios. Everything from globe hopping garden gnomes, suicidal gold fish, and talking paintings make their way into the proceedings. Despite the film's outwardly innocent appearance, the director doesn't shy away from more adult subject matter either, and sexuality plays a large part in the film, bringing many wonderful moments of awkward humor. All of the characters are unusual, wacky, and strange, but still somehow feel real, and remain sympathetic and compelling.
Visually, the film is like an explosion of vibrant eccentricity. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet creates an almost relentless pace of hyperactive bliss and filmic eye candy. The world of 'Amélie' is cast in saturated hues of yellow, green, and red, tossing aside the dreary, drab shades of reality in favor of bright fantasy. Whenever we are first introduced to a character, Jeunet unleashes an energetic montage of images and voiceover, demonstrating the person's various likes and dislikes, effectively forming a racing, stream of consciousness look into their soul. The narration itself extends far beyond these sequences and acts as an integral part of the film's early scenes, creating a magical storybook like quality. Thankfully, Jeunet doesn't let the disembodied narrator overstay his welcome, and the voiceover becomes less of an active component once the plot really takes off, allowing the characters and images to speak for themselves. Throughout the entire running time, there is a slightly self aware aspect to the filmmaker's style. It's almost as if Jeunet is winking to his audience, and while this might have the potential to annoy some, it usually works well with the modern day fairy tale aspect of the picture.
Though it's hard to admit with Ms. Tautou still smiling so sweetly above, 'Amélie' isn't perfect. The story does lose some momentum as it reaches its second half, with the almost unrelenting pace of its opening sequences traded for a slightly more leisurely and occasionally dragging rhythm. The characters, though unquestionably lovable, can also be a bit too cute and deliberately mannered for their own good. In addition, despite the inventive style and script, 'Amélie' isn't quite as original as it may first seem (there are some strong echoes of Wong Kar Wai's 'Chungking Express' and 'Fallen Angels'). Still, there is no denying the skill, passion, and artistry on display.
'Amélie' is a romantic fantasy about the small pleasures in life, the little moments that put a spring in our steps and a song in our hearts. The cast and director show a perfect understanding of the material, creating a charming and enduring celebration of love. As much as I try to avoid it, my cold, black heart can't help but be melted by its adorable, flashy allure. But it's over now, so if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to brooding.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate brings 'Amélie' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a standard case. Some skippable trailers play upon startup before transitioning to a standard menu.
The movie is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Absolutely drenched in rich colors, this is a stunning transfer.
The source is clean with a light layer of natural grain. Detail is fantastic and the lush cinematography creates a wonderful level of lifelike dimensionality. Colors are the real highlight here, and the film is cast in a golden glazed symphony of vibrant reds, greens, and yellows, that pop right off the screen. Black levels are deep and inky without being crushed and contrast is bright and bold.
The video is free of any major technical issues and while not quite worthy of a perfect score, this is near reference quality material, that would make a great demo title to show off your fancy, new high-def television set.
'Amélie' is provided with a French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles. Though not as lively as the video, the audio is also strong.
Dialogue is clean, full, and crisp. Directionality across the soundstage is natural and frequent. Surround use is creative and fun, with various music cues and appropriate ambient effects flowing through the rears. Bass doesn't exactly get a work out, but does sound nice and deep when called for. Dynamic range is wide and fully realized. Balance between all of the audio elements in the mix is handled well, never sacrificing clarity of speech for music or effects work.
The audio track is immersive while still being subtle, knowing when to give room to dialogue, and when to go all out with an exciting display of energetic sound design.
Lionsgate has included a nice collection of supplements, with several featurettes and interviews, as well as a commentary track. All of the special features are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital audio and English subtitle options for the French language portions only.
'Amélie' is a breezy, humorous, and simply wonderful film about love and happiness. With a quirky cast of original characters and an exciting visual style, this is cinematic romance at its best. The video transfer is absolutely gorgeous and the audio is great. Supplements are plentiful, fun, and informative. It will put a smile on your face, even if you don't want it to. Highly Recommended.