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Amelie: More than a Spoonful
The tenth anniversary of “Amelie” was marked by the release of the Blu-Ray version of this classic film. A simple story told with great flair, beautiful colors, and filmed within the magic of Paris, “Amelie” seems more needed today in this post-9/11 world than when it was first released.
We start with a wonderful narrative sequence that highlights the seemingly small moments in Parisians lives when Amelie is born. Her two neurotic parents seem an ill-fit for this imaginative little girl, but when her mother dies in a bizarre accident, Amelie retreats within her dream-world under she is old enough to set out on her own.
Flash forward to 1997 when Amelie’s life is changed forever by the news of the tragic death of Princess Diana. No, it’s not the news report itself, but what happens sets off a chain of events that lead Amelie to make it her life’s mission to help others. On this journey she stumbles across Nino, a young man who shares Amelie’s gifted imagination and seemingly is her soul-mate. But will they ever get together?
The magic of the movie centers on the small, yet important moments in people’s lives. Amelie is also that rare bird of a film that’s almost entirely positive, glowing with sunshine on the idealized streets of Paris. It helps that Amelie herself, played with glorious aplomb by Audrey Tautou, is such an attractive, delightful creation. The sequences on the amusement park ride, following the arrows through the park, and the mystery of the stone-faced man who takes his photograph in seemingly every booth in Paris transcend the ordinary and occupy that rare place of true wonder.
Amelie also has some very funny scenes like the comeuppance of the grocery store owner. This is a movie for the ages, but not for all ages as it earns it’s “R” rating for nudity (Nino works in sex store).
The film’s director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet is still a fairly prominent director in France. His most recent release, “Micmacs” appeared in American theaters last year. He is a perfectionist, preferring to film indoors rather than wrangle with the unpredictable nature of outdoor shooting. Yet his nature also means his films are heavy on pre-production to the point where the script is so tight that the finished product has few, if any scenes which have been deleted. His one “Hitchcock” like trait is that all of his feature films have the actor Dominique Pinon (perhaps best known to American audiences in “Diva”).
Jeunet's interest in cinema began in his teens when he purchased a camera and created short films while studying animation. He progressed into directing music videos and TV commercials with his collaborator, Mark Caro, a long time comic book artist.
His first effort, “Delicatessen” suffered from poor post-production film processing that left the images dark to the point where it’s hard to see what is going on. A better choice is his highly acclaimed “A Very Long Engagement”, also starring Tautou.
For those who might be curious about his career, here are two more recommendations that’ll shed some light on this unique director.
The City of Lost Children
Set in a dream world, similar in ways to “Dark City”, an evil genius known as Krank (Daniel Emilfork) kidnaps, then steals the dreams of young children because he himself cannot dream. One (well played by Ron Perlman) seeks his brother who has been kidnapped by Krank and is helped by Miette (Judith Vittet) in seeking the lost children.
Filmed entirely on indoor soundstages, the production values are top notch. Perlman makes for a very effective lead as the somewhat dull, but really buffed out “One”. “City” does suffer at times from being a little too bizarre, namely “le scaphandrier” (Dominique Pinon) and his clones’ crazed dance sequence. But overall it is an interesting, fantasy fueled effort that succeeds on the back of its imaginative storyline.
Yes, Jeunet directed this third sequel to the “Alien” franchise. Set in a future far distant from the earlier “Alien” movies, Ripley (a still vital Sigourney Weaver) has been resurrected though the process of cloning by ambitious scientists for the purpose of harvesting the Alien queen. They start breeding more aliens and get far more than they bargained for. Meanwhile a group of space pirates boards the vessel and find themselves fighting alongside Ripley as the starship hurtles towards Earth.
Reaction to this film was genuinely mixed, while highly imaginative, the more surreal aspects of Ripley’s cloning along with the reveal of a hard-to-believe shocker about one of the pirates were a little too much for some to take. The finale, the birth of an alien/human monster that tenderly caresses Ripley after ripping apart the alien queen borders on either the most brilliant or insane scene in sci-fi history.
Probably the most interesting behind the scenes aspect of Alien: Resurrection was that Jeunet at the time didn’t speak a word of English. He would give his directions to Sigourney Weaver, who is fluent in French, and she would translate to the rest of the cast. Also, the basketball shot Weaver makes was apparently done without any CGI or special effects on the third take.
Jeunet has certainly carved out a fascinating career, and though his low picture output mimics Stanley Kubrick to certain degree, he has not quite risen to that level of director…yet. But he can take some comfort in knowing that if “Amelie” is the film he’s best remembered for, he has succeeded in making at least one classic film.