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Movie Review

Amélie

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Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Claire Maurier and Serge Merlin.

In a 1970s Parisian suburb, a young girl by the name of Amélie Poulain is born into an emotionally frigid household. Yearning for but deprived of affection by her nervous mother and phlegmatic father, little Amélie is mistakenly diagnosed with a cardiac condition when her heartbeat accelerates with the only tactile indulgence she receives – a monthly checkup from her doctor father. As a result, Amélie is educated at home, and, further isolated by her status as an only child, she grows up friendless and lonely. Stripped of any semblance of a normal childhood, Amélie retreats into her imagination to create a fantasy world of sweetness, comfort and, the elixir of life itself, love.

Now a beautiful young woman of 23, Amélie has left home for the vibrant 18th arrondissement of Montmartre, where she works as a waitress in a café that is also a refuge for an assortment of idiosyncratic characters. There is Georgette, the hypochondriac tobacconist, the pathologically jealous Joseph, and the failed writer Hipolito. In truth, they’re a bunch of weirdoes. Having decided that skimming stones on the river or cracking crème brulée brings her more pleasure than sex, the relentlessly eccentric Amélie foregoes carnal gratification for simpler pursuits.

One day, she chances upon a tin box hidden in her bathroom. The discovery of the box, replete with boyhood bric-a-brac collected years before, provides an epiphany for Amélie, and our conscientious heroine decides to devote her time to restoring what’s missing in a variety of peoples’ lives, be it a box of memories, or a simple act of love and hope. But when Amélie falls in love, will she be able to turn her appetite for romantic ruses inward on herself?

With 6.5 million French people having seen it in just 13 weeks, ‘Amélie’ or, to give it its full title, ‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain’ arrives on an aura of approbation that has made it one of the most cherished French films in recent years. There is no doubt that 'Amélie' is charming, quirky and often wonderfully surreal, but after a magical opening, the middle section assumes the distinctive Gallic gait of a circuitous, navel-gazing narrative.

Director Jeunet is unable to sustain the delightful brush strokes he presents in the early part of the film, and apart from sporadic success in capturing the allure of the Parisian district, the film is forced to look elsewhere for its salvation. Fortunately, it gets this and more in the beguiling performance of Audrey Tautou in the title role. Tautou's inherent charm, garnished with a gaze of innocent sexuality, lends the character of Amélie the perfect recipe for audiences to take her to their collective hearts. Unsurprisingly, they have. 'Amélie' the film is satisfying, but Amélie the character is a treat.

Tom Grealis

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