DVD: With a second look, 'Amelie' works her charm
By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 18, 2002
[Photo: Miramax Zoe]
Audrey Tautou is the waifish waitress with the magical romantic touch in Amelie.
During an "intimate chat" on the DVD version of Amelie, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet claims his cream-puff romantic comedy earned 450 positive reviews and that only six film critics didn't like it. One of those negative reviews was mine. Jeunet's bizarre whimsy and especially Audrey Tautou's self-consciously shy title performance simply got on my nerves.
I stuck to that opinion all the way through the awards season that anointed Amelie as the most captivating French export since Moet et Chandon. I cringed when my Florida Film Critics Circle colleagues voted Amelie two awards as best foreign language film and best film of 2001. I celebrated when No Man's Land bested Amelie in the Oscar race for best foreign film.
Meanwhile, moviegoers in love with Tautou's waif waitress and her magical romantic touch pointedly wondered why I hadn't swooned as well. The easiest way to end such conversations was promising to take another look at Amelie someday.
After revisiting Jeunet's film on DVD, I'm willing to admit being a little too rough with my C-plus assessment last December. The featherweight plot -- Amelie charmingly meddles in everyone else's lives while underestimating her own -- is still a sticking point, but Jeunet's gilding of the mundane with inventive color schemes and fantastic imagery is superb. The DVD transfer looks so ravishing that I wonder if a dim projector bulb undermined the theatrical screening I saw seven months ago.
And, since Amelie was the final film of the annual year-end glut of screenings set up by studios with the holidays and Top 10 lists in mind, I'll confess that my patience was wearing thin in December. Now, with a more leisurely attitude, Amelie proves to be a pleasantly strange trifle, still overrated, but not as bad as I originally thought. A solid grade-B movie, no more or less.
My admiration for Amelie hasn't increased to the level at which the DVD's bonus features are aimed. If you absolutely adore Tautou, then watching her giggle through screen tests and a montage of cuddly expressions titled "Fantasies of Audrey Tautou" will entertain. A segment detailing Jeunet's production design, bubblegum hues usually with an intrusive opposite color somewhere, is an elementary lesson. Only one scene, Amelie's haunted-house amusement ride, is storyboarded in comparison with the film, a disappointing shortage considering the movie's visual delights.
Jeunet's "intimate chat," delivered straight to a locked-down camera, contains the best background information, such as his consideration of Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) for the title role. It helps that he's speaking in his native French with English subtitles; two other question-and-answer sessions put his English and our ears to severe tests.
A making-of documentary, bilingual TV ads and preview trailers, and a scrapbook-style photo gallery round out the two-disc set. There's also an option to hear the original "Parisian French" language track, if you can tell the difference.
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