24 June, 2009

Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001)

Amazing Amélie

Pre-Iraq II, Time magazine ran a cover story rationalizing the ‘freedom fries’ line – WHY FRANCE IS DIFFERENT. Interestingly, the cover star was Audrey Tautou, which was a pic ed’s nice take on softening the editorial frog-bashing. This was indicative of the unarguable fact that nobody could quite rationalize – beyond Tautou’s indescribable beauty – what made Amélie (2001) (as it was known in the anglophone territories) such a sensation in spite of its unashamedly atavistic celebration of a dying Frenchness, right down to Amelie’s clogs, the Catholic notion of charity, the Proustian notion of nostalgia.

The premise is simple – a bright but offbeat girl embarks on a mission of charity for the lost and marginalized of Paris, and acts as an avenging angel to the harsh and horrid. But Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s sly trick was to use the swashbucklingly brilliant technique that made Delicatessen (1991) and La Cité des enfants perdus (1995) such breathtaking pictures and place it in the service of a humdrum urban France in a social transition as laboured as a slow panning shot.

Few living directors have a better sense of visual dynamics than this maverick; how could the commander of Alien: Resurrection (1997) make a sweet, oddball love story in Montmartre into an international hit? That he did will perhaps be the ultimate monument to his genius. It should be.

Mathieu Kassovitz had known infamy in France for his role in the classic of racism La Haine (1995) makes his presence as Amelie’s love interest all the more poignant.

Amelie’s France never existed. But Jeunet’s gift is to make a watertight case that it did, in a visual language that combines lingering facial shots with biff-bang pop-video jumpcuts. Stunning, ravishing, you know the drill. It’s a sensation; one of those films you always promise yourself you’ll see. Don’t put it off any longer.

Awards: Click here for details.

Paul Stump
129 mins. In French.

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