Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Audrey Tautou
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes, Interviews, Screen Tests, Storyboards, Still Gallery, Filmographies, Trailers & TV Spots
Every now and again I become a little wistful thinking of the classic Technicolor films of the 1950s and 60s that were full of wonderful music, unabashed humor, and the kind of boundless joy that any modern-day film would be ridiculed for possessing. Ah, but every so often a real gem of a film comes along that isn’t afraid to throw caution to the wind and treat the audience to a little old-fashioned, Golden Age of Hollywood throwback. That such a film should hail from France may be part of the reason that it is able to succeed so wonderfully as foreign, art-house films are held to very different standards than major Hollywood studio fare.
At any rate, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wonderful "Amélie" is a visually breathtaking film that will warm the heart of even the most hardened soul. Jeunet’s previous cult hits "Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children" share the same sense of fantastic whimsy as "Amélie" but whereas the previous works were very dark in appearance and undertone, "Amélie" is as bright and utterly uplifting as a spring day.
Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) was raised in near seclusion by her very odd parents — especially after the untimely yet oddly humorous death of her mother. When she finally strikes out on her own, Amélie becomes a waitress in Paris and finds herself living a decent enough life but one which she finds to be totally unfulfilling. One day she hears the news of a horrible event that shocked the world yet this so-called earth-shattering event (I’ll leave the details to the viewer to discover) is remarkable not for its own importance but for the roundabout way in which it leads Amélie to discover a hidden tin of toys tucked away behind the tiles in her apartment bathroom.
Deciding that her new mission in life is to return these vintage baubles to their now 60-some year-old owner, Amélie becomes a detective of sorts to locate the mystery man. Fully satisfied with the way this one task turns out, Amélie becomes a veritable matchmaker and heart-mender and sets out to change the world for the better.
Before long Amélie must confront her own broken heart and dreams and decide how best to secure for herself the same bright future that she works so hard at giving to others.
"Amélie" is a pure delight from beginning to end. Audrey Tautou is frequently compared to the late Audrey Hepburn and the resemblance both physical and stylistic is remarkable. Looking much smaller than she really is, the doe-eyed brunette is full of impish charm and the type of facial expressions that tell an entire story in one brief glance.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s direction is superb with every imaginable camera angle utilized in such a way as to make the viewer an integral part of the story. As with the Coen brother’s "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," Jeunet converted the entire film into a digital format in order to manipulate the color palette and he uses the very film stock itself to help convey mood.
It’s a rare film that can tell such a simple little tale in such a way that it appeals to practically every audience member. Just be forewarned that the film’s R rating is due to some sexual situations and nudity that more prudish viewers may find offensive.
Presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, "Amélie" on DVD offers a remarkable video transfer. The digitizing of the film stock for color adjustment leads to a slightly soft picture that is never annoying but certainly stands out in comparison to the razor-sharpness of most modern-day blockbuster films.
Colors are wonderfully vibrant and the DVD transfer captures every nuance of Jeunet’s stylized and highly-manipulated palette. Much of the film features almost monochrome tinting while other scenes explode with a riot of color. "Amélie" has that same otherworldly look as many of the classic three-strip Technicolor films in which the colors appear too lifelike to actually exist. This aspect of the film just adds to the magic and charm.
Black levels are nice and solid as well and the image is free from any blemishes or other defects of any kind. "Amélie" is a highly-stylized film and it’s a relief to see that it survived the transfer to DVD with nary a hitch.
Audio is served up in a French <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track with optional English and Spanish subtitles and more descriptive English <$CC,Closed Captions> for the hearing impaired. Dynamic range is quite good with clear highs and a fair amount of deep bass. Surrounds are heavily engaged throughout and really bring the audio mix to life. Dialogue is crisp and clear and is wonderfully balanced with the sound effects and engaging musical score.
My French-speaking wife informs me that the subtitles miss much of the nuance of the film and omit whole lines of dialogue but what’s a Philistine like me to do? Still and all, enough of the essence of the story is passed along through the subtitles to keep us non-Francophiles entertained.
As a two-disc special edition I was expecting "Amélie" to be packed with extras but surprisingly the pickings are rather lean given the double-disc format. Still, what’s there is entertaining and informative even if I was hoping for a little more.
Disc One features two <$commentary,commentary track>s by Jean-Pierre Jeunet — one in English and one in French. Unfortunately the French commentary is sans subtitles so once again only the French speakers among us can enjoy this treat. The English track is very entertaining but it’s likely to take a few minutes to adjust to the director’s strongly-accented English. Jeunet delves into every aspect of the film and is able to keep the commentary rolling even as a one man show.
Disc One also features promotional trailers for the "Amélie" soundtrack as well as the films "Behind the Sun," "Life is Beautiful," "Il Postino," and "The Closet."
Disc Two features the remaining extras. Starting things off is the 13-minute "The Look of ’Amélie’" which focuses on Bruno Delbonnel’s wonderful cinematography as well as the computerized color manipulation utilized by Jeunet to such great effect.
Next up is a series of outtakes entitled "Fantasies of Audrey Tautou" which runs for about two minutes and reinforces the impression that the actress is just as charming off-screen as on.
Three separate "Screen Tests" are also provided that show the actors playing the roles of Amélie, Madeline, and Collignon auditioning for their parts.
Disc Two also offers up three interview segments. "Q&A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet" is a 24-minute interview session in English filmed after a showing of the film in Los Angeles. "Q&A with Director and Cast" is a shorter 6-minute piece conducted after a screening in France (English subtitles are provided) while "An Intimate Chat with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet" (also in French) clocks in at 21 minutes and offers a more intimate interview with the director.
Also included on the disc is a very short "Storyboard Comparison" of the funhouse scene and a nice still gallery entitled "The ’Amélie’ Scrapbook." The "Scrapbook" features sections of behind-the-scenes photos, French poster concept art, storyboards, and images documenting the Garden Gnome’s world travels.
"Home Movie: Inside the Making of ’Amélie’" offers a wonderfully funny behind-the-scenes 13-minute home video taken on the set.
Rounding out the extras are French and English theatrical trailers, 12 TV spots, and cast and crew filmographies.
"Amélie" joins the long line of fantastic films jobbed by the Academy as it came up empty after receiving five nominations. Oh well, the film was also utterly overlooked by the Cannes jury in its own home country. Maybe they’re still holding director Jean-Pierre Jeunet responsible for the debacle that was "Alien: Resurrection."
Still, I can’t think of a more enjoyable movie that I’ve seen this past year and even those who usually avoid subtitled foreign films would be well served to give "Amélie" a chance. Featuring heartwarming performances and a magical visual style, "Amélie" is a modern-day fairytale about the power of love and the power of one dedicated soul determined to change the world for the better.
Buena Vista’s special edition DVD offers up a wonderful audio and visual experience as well as some very entertaining bonus features. Highly recommended, "Amélie" is a film not to be missed.