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Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) 2001

When Jean-Pierre Jeunet submitted his film Amelie to the Cannes film festival, festival president Giles Jacob rejected its entry into the festivalís main competition. He told the director of Delicatessen, and The City of Lost Children that Amelie was not the sort of film that he should be making. Of course, the film went on to become a huge hit in Europe, and now itís descending upon America with a full-force Oscar-timed release by Miramax ZoŽ (apparently art house distributors need subdivisions to distribute foreign films nowadays). After seeing it, I understand Jacobís response to Jeunet. The film is a trifling work. There is an absolute resistance to putting anything of substance on display here. Still, itís a better film than the equally vapid The Sonís Room, which won the Palm DíOr at the same festival.

The story begins by recounting the simultaneous occurrences at the moment when Amelie (Audrey Tautou in what is barely allowed to be a performance) was conceived. This fascination with coincidence continues throughout, and seems to be cribbed, like the filmís updates on the state of the weather from PT Andersonís Magnolia, and really neither seems to add anything to the film. We get to see Amelie grow up in the filmís frenzied opening moments, and the combination of many short scenes accompanied by voiceover narration feels like early Godard or Truffautís Jules and Jim (which Amelie attends a screening of). Still, this grows tiresome in a way that their films didnít. When every shot is meant to amaze, none do.

Once the film settles down on the adult Amelie in 1997, she seems relatively well adjusted even though she lost her mother at an early age and she didnít get enough hugs from her father. She engages in casual sex and seems rather content and unquestioning in life. Once she hears news of Princess Dianaís death on television, however, she seems to regress into a childlike state. She seems to be stunned by the announcement of that tragedy, and her attentions become diverted immediately upon hearing it by a small tin box filled with childrenís toys that she finds. She becomes obsessed with the toys, and with finding their owner, and is able to literally shut the news of the princessí death off once she finds them.  Itís almost as if she reverts to being the girl that she was before her mother was killed. She seems to recreate herself as a princess in order to deny the loss of Diana. Suddenly, she needs more than just sex. She needs Romance, Love, and JusticeÖ all with a capital letters! Her views of the world regress until they have a childlike simplicity. She begins playing tricks again on those that are mean, as she did when she was a child. She seems to become repulsed by sex without love (she tries to block it out when it rears his head by turning on a cappuccino machine or by hanging up a phone).

The man that she becomes attracted to is presented as a phallic nightmare. He works in a sex shop, and spends his day placing price stickers on dildos. Although Amelie is not a virgin, she sure acts like one in his presence. He catches Amelieís eye, but she is unable to approach him. She ends up creating a series of coy games to lure him to her. She has problems relating to other people, and initially communicates with them through notes, film clips, or her own imagination. She begins to apply her principles to the world around her. She becomes consumed by her childlike idealism, and is petulant when the world does not bend to her ideals. This transformation is interesting, but the film flubs badly when it wants us to approve of it. Of course, Amelie is optimistic, and thatís great, but she is also detached from any rational understanding of the world. Her idealization of her mate results in a one-sided relationship that doesnít seem to function on any mature, adult level. Her never-ending winsomeness seems to ignore the world around her, and the film never calls her bluff. Itís infuriating.

This fanciful film ultimately failed to engage me since it was not about any perception of reality that I could relate to. The world of Amelie has no politics. It has no issues. It only has an exaggerated sense of quirkiness and a pea-green tint that suggests an overblown sense of nostalgia for childhood. To me, my childhood was well and good, but the thought of regressing into it is appalling. I value the wisdom and responsibilities that being an adult have brought me. The filmís suggestion that maturity is founded on cynicism is ludicrous and worthy of a Robin Williams movie. Amelie, which feels much more similar in tone and style to Hollywood productions than most French ones, isnít far from Williamsí tearjerkers in terms of quality.

*1/2 

11/01/01

Jeremy Heilman