Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001): ***½
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is responsible for one of my favorite films of all time, The City of Lost Children (La Cite des Enfents Perdus), which like the film he made before it, Delicatessan, takes place in a semi-science fiction world with obsessive-compulsive characters, rich, textural background details, and a strange sense of timelessness. After these two films he made a short stopover with Alien Ressurection before returning to La France to make this movie.
This movie actually takes place in the real world, but it is still filled with the same rich textural details and innovative camerawork and OCD characters that filled his other French movies. It is just really hard to top Jeunet in any of these regards. This film has almost a magic realism to it, as if it takes place in a France that doesn't quite exist.
The film is full of great touches, like the character Joseph (Jeunet favorite actor Dominique Pinon) who stalks his ex-girlfriend at the cafe she works, recording her every move into a tape recorder. Amelie's father is kind of a shut-in who has always wanted to tour the world. Suddenly one of his lawn gnomes disappears, and later he begins receiving photographs through the mail of the lawn gnome in front of world landmarks like the Kremlin, the Great Pyramid. A man goes around collecting photos of the same man over and over again from those carnival-style instant photo booths.
All that stuff is brillian. And when Amelie decides to help those around her even though she's too scared to do anything about her own lonliness, all those scenes are great. The only problem I had with this movie is that about halfway through the film it ends up degenerating into just another shy girl romance, where the big question becomes "Will Amelie have the courage to help herself like she tried to help others?" And then I actually became a little bored with the story. Thankfully Jeunet keeps the characters and camerawork and little details so fascinating that I enjoyed watching what was going on onscreen even if the story no longer particularly engaged me.
I actually liked this film a little bit less than I thought I would. But I thought it would be four stars; three-and-a-half still means it's a fantastic film.
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