Amelie

"When I look at you... I can hardly breathe."

The title character in Amelie, an irritating little bundle of joy, discovers what it means to perform a random act of kindness and proceeds to spend over two hours spreading whimsy, whimsy and more whimsy through the romanticized streets of supposedly modern-day Paris. It’s not every day that you see a film so enamored with its own “quirkiness”; it’s rarer still to encounter one that is so warmly embraced by, well, just about everyone despite its obvious desperation to charm and please. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children, Alien Resurrection) is a talented filmmaker and his subject matter is promising, but his approach made me want to vomit. Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last year, Amelie is a lock for most foreign-language film awards; unlike Crouching Tiger, it is far from deserving.

The movie is predictably fond of drawn-out montages; in fact, it begins with one. We are introduced to Amelie through an unbearably eccentric collection of scenes from her childhood. They mean to explain why she has become so lonely and introverted as an adult, and provide a setup for the transformation that she is fated to have by the end of the film. You see Amelie, now a coffeeshop worker in a traditional section of Paris, will discover a box full of sentimental treasures in her apartment. Suddenly inspired, she goes off on a Nancy Drew-style quest to seek out its owner. When she finds him, makes the anonymous drop-off, and watches from a distance as tears well up in the lucky recipient’s eyes, she rediscovers her humanity (or something) and decides to run around the city performing selfless good deeds. Until, that is, she meets a guy.

Thus far I’ve done little but rant about the film’s shortcomings, and I don’t want to deceive you: Amelie does get some things right. I liked its little listings of seemingly random likes and dislikes for each character; when I learned that one character enjoys emptying out her purse and organizing it, and that another hates the words “fruit of her womb,” I understood exactly where they were coming from. Some of the charms here are airy and effortless, but the vast majority are heavy-handed and not charming at all.

Now, a bizarre complaint: the film’s cinematography has a nauseating yellow glow that very nearly put me to sleep. I’m not sure whether it was the day that I was having that caused this reaction or whether the effect was genuine, but one fact remains: the movie is hideous. Like in Chocolat and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the cinematography here is relentlessly and soporifically “quaint.” How ironic for a movie whose protagonist comes alive to look like a rotting corpse.

Audrey Tautou, now hailed as some sort of breakout star, annoyed me further with her endless stare of wide-eyed amazement. Her attitude is a microcosm of the rest of the movie, which expects us to behold in astonishment the most trivial of matters. It takes a remarkable movie to make us gasp in awe at unremarkable things, and Amelie does not muster that much filmmaking prowess. Aside from sporadic, surprising moments of truth that evoke a knowing nod or two from the audience, the film feels trivial itself.

This happens every year. A shameless crowdpleaser, and not a terribly well-made one a that, inexplicably wins the hearts of critics and audiences around the globe, universally praised with that most noxious of quote-blurb cliches: the “feel-good movie of the year!”. Last year it was Chocolat. A few years back, it was Tea With Mussolini. This year, the culprit is Amelie. The thing is, I don’t need the sight of a post-modern Ally McBeal riding a motorcycle through the alleys of Paris to make me feel good. Give me the final shot of Monsters, Inc. any day.

-- Eugene Novikov

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