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Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Dominique Pinon, Isabelle Nanty, Serge Merlin
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant

She'll change your life.
Rated R for sexual content.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film; Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Sound.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 7/16/2002

• English Audio Commentary With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
• French Audio Commentary With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
• “The Look of Amélie
• “Fantasies of Audrey Tautou”
• Auditions
• Q&A With the Director
• Q&A With the Director and the Cast
• “An Intimate Chat With the Director”
• “Home Movie: Inside the Making of Amélie
• Trailers
• TV Spots
• Storyboard Comparisons
• “The Amélie Scrapbook”

Music soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Amélie (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

If space creatures came to me and asked for a representative example of French cinema, I’d point them straight to Amélie. Pretty much every preconceived notion I possess about French movies pops to life in this semi-romantic fable. At least for me, Amélie strongly represents what I expect from this sort of film.

And I expected to hate it. I saw the previews for the movie and thought it looked insanely cutesy and cloying and figured it’d make me sick. To my surprise, however, I found Amélie to offer a moderately entertaining experience. I can’t say it won me over to a huge degree, but I enjoyed much of what I saw.

Due to her cold and neurotic parents, Amélie Poulain (Flora Guiet as a child) grows up lonely and isolated. As an adult, Amélie (Audrey Tautou) continues to live that sort of life, and she rarely interacts with others in a substantial way. One day she discovers a secret hiding spot in her apartment’s wall, and she pulls an old tin box out of it.

Within this metal case, she sees a collection of prized possessions once owned by a young boy. Amélie decides that she wants to return these to their owner, so she embarks on a quest to locate him. Once she does so, she witnesses the joy this small act brings to the man, and she decides to become an active do-gooder. However, she resists attempts to improve her own life, though she develops a crush on a quirky mystery man named Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), and they pursue each other in an oblique manner.

Everything I hate in French cinema appears in Amélie. It presents the traditional form of almost willful and self-conscious quirkiness that grates on me, and it also features that uniquely European sense of “magic”; little in this kind of film seems meant to be taken literally. It even includes the sort of bouncy accordion score that seems typical for this genre.

But almost miraculously, I didn’t hate Amélie. No, I can’t say that I loved it either, but my feelings toward it remained generally positive. This doesn’t seem quite as severe as Jerry Falwell embracing Satan, but it’s not far off the mark; I really dislike this genre of film.

So what changed my mind? Darned if I know, but Amélie simply worked. Again, to put this into context, I didn’t adore the flick. Other reviews I read simply gushed about this “magical” and “charming” affair, and they placed particular emphasis on their praise for the elfin and gamine Tautou. I definitely felt prepared to loathe her; from her perky Euro-haircut to those plate-sized eyes, she seemed too overtly spunky and mischievous to come across as anything other than annoying.

Actually, she seemed pretty darned sexy in the movie. Her performance didn’t make a substantial impression on me, but she appeared much hotter than I expected; in the previews, she always came across as so absurdly pixie-like that I didn’t think she’d boil my potatoes in any way. I could live without the hair helmet she sports, but she still makes a more positive impression than I anticipated.

One positive aspect of Amélie relates to the extremely efficient way in which it introduces characters. The film packs in a lot of personalities, but it sums them up quickly and concisely. It makes them all lively and identifiable personalities and also manages to keep them individualized.

Amélie revels in the details, and those elements help make the characters more vibrant. When we meet new people, we learn a mix of seemingly trivial parts of their personalities. However, these facets give us a greater understanding of the characters much more clearly than broader discussions would have. It’s a clever and lively way to bring the people to life.

At times, Amélie seems like the cutesy and precious flick I expected. However, it often presents a reasonably charming and likable fable. It provides a lively enterprise that includes enough humor and allure to almost win over a non-believer like myself.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus B+

Amélie appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The DVD presented a stellar picture that consistently appeared excellent.

Sharpness seemed immaculate. The movie always came across as crisp and distinct, and I noticed no problems related to softness or fuzziness. Even during wide shots, the picture stayed accurate and solid. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, I saw a few examples of speckles, but those occurred very infrequently; the movie usually looked fresh.

Amélie presented a bright and heavily stylized palette; green hasn’t dominated a film this strongly since The Matrix. Actually, a lot of different hues appeared, but greens played the most significant role. In any case, all the colors looked excellent, as the DVD offered very vivid and lively hues from start to finish. Black levels also came across as deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not overly opaque. In the end, Amélie gave us an outstanding visual presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Amélie didn’t seem quite as impressive, but it worked well for the material. The soundfield appeared relatively modest in scope. The front spectrum dominated the film, and I heard a nicely natural and broad spread across the forward speakers. Music presented accurate and well-defined stereo imaging, while effects moved cleanly across the field and also blended together neatly. The surrounds usually kicked in general reinforcement of the front. The rear speakers became most active when used to accentuate something for dramatic effect; for example, a loud “boom” would reverberate across the back channels to indicate the psychological impact of an event. Otherwise, the surrounds remained fairly passive partners in the movie.

Audio quality appeared solid. Since I speak virtually no French, I couldn’t fully judge intelligibility, but the lines seemed distinct and natural, and they displayed no edginess or overt flaws. Music sounded lively and bouncy and offered good dynamics and brightness. Effects also came across as clean and accurate, and they showed no signs of distortion. Bass response was tight and demonstrative when appropriate. Ultimately, the audio of Amélie lacked the ambition to earn more than a “B”, but I found the mix to sound satisfying nonetheless.

Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to the early reports on what supplements this DVD would include, but I got the impression that things didn’t look positive. Happily, I can report that any concerns along those lines failed to materialize; Amélie appears as a nicely packed 2-DVD special edition. Not surprisingly, most of the extras show up on the second disc, but DVD One includes a few pieces.

Most significant is an audio commentary from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. Don’t let his heavy French accent dissuade you from giving his track a listen; I occasionally found it tough to make out individual words, but within context, his statements always made sense. While the track sagged at times, Jeunet usually provided a lively and engaging presentation. He covered a myriad of elements related to the film, from casting to working with the actors - especially Tautou, who he stated hates improvisation - to technical gimmickry, production design, the challenges of shooting in France, and many other topics. Winningly, Jeunet gladly made fun of himself and his countrymen; at one point, he humorously laughed at their national obsession with smoking. Fans of Jeunet’s other films will learn some useful information as well, since he occasionally discussed elements of those flicks. Jeunet’s commentary seemed rich and compelling and made for a nice counterpart to the film itself.

Actually, I should mention that Amélie includes two commentaries from Jeunet. However, I can only discuss the one listed above, for the second one is in French. Since it provides no English subtitles, I’ll have to leave that one for the folks who understand the language. I’d love to know how similar the two tracks are, but unless I head over to Berlitz sometime soon, that won’t happen.

Also on DVD One, we find the traditional Sneak Peeks domain. This section provides ads for the Amélie soundtrack, Miramax Gold, Behind the Sun, Life Is Beautiful, Il Postino, and The Closet.

With that, we move to DVD Two, where the lion’s share of the supplements reside. The Look of Amélie lasts 12 minutes and 45 seconds as it presents a view of the film’s visuals. We get a mix of movie shots, behind the scenes materials, and interviews with director Jeunet, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and actor Mathieu Kassovitz. The featurette offers a good discussion of the movie’s visual style, and it covers a number of different areas; from colors to camera movement to sets, we get a lot of solid information in this short but tight program.

Get your mind out of the gutter: Fantasies of Audrey Tautou doesn’t present any sexy shots of the star. Instead, the 127-second piece just shows outtakes, mainly those in which she goofs and then giggles. It’s a pretty uninteresting blooper reel.

I preferred the collection of three different sets of Screen Tests. We find clips for Tautou (117 seconds), Urbain Cancelier (37 seconds), and Yolande Moreau (three minutes, 50 seconds). The last two seem good, but Tautou appears surprisingly uncompelling.

Q&A With Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet offers 24 minutes and 35 seconds from an early 2002 session in Los Angeles. The first 13 minutes consist of an interview and then Jeunet takes questions from the audience. Some of the material repeats information heard in the audio commentary, but a lot of useful new facts appear here. Jeunet still seems lively and engaging - he even gives an audience member a hilariously hard time when the guy mentions the French “new wave” - and this program offers a nice segment.

A similar but shorter piece appears next. Q&A With Director and Cast offers a session with Jeunet and performers Tautou, Kassovitz, and Jamel Debbouze. The five-minute and 55-second program appears in French and offers a brief but engaging chat. Not a lot of information shows up here, but it’s nice to get a slightly different perspective.

In the Storyboard Comparison, we get a 56-second look at the scene with Amélie in the amusement park spook house. The boards appear in the top half of the screen, while a cropped 1.33:1 image shows up in the bottom. It’s too short to be very useful, but it’s interesting to have a look at the well-drawn boards.

An Intimate Chat with Jean-Pierre Jeunet gives us another 20 minutes and 47 seconds with the director. Presented in French with English subtitles, here he speaks directly to the camera as he covers many elements related to the film. Surprisingly, he repeats very little that we hear elsewhere. Jeunet goes over the invention of the movie’s title, his original idea to cast Emily Watson, test screenings, a Cannes controversy, public and critical reactions, and some other topics. He continues to seem genial and likable, and this piece offers another entertaining and useful program.

Created by Liza Sullivan, Home Movie: Inside the Making of Amélie offers a quirky 12-minute and 44-second look at the film. We watch elements such as the development of Tautou’s hairstyle, the photo booth sessions, and the shooting of some scenes. The program includes no narration; we hear music and audio from the set. Overall, it’s a loose but interesting view of the production.

Next we find both the US and French theatrical trailers. The former offers a fullscreen image with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, while the latter provides a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 picture with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio. We also get seven US TV spots and five French TV spots. I appreciated the inclusion of the latter, for we rarely get to see this kind of material.

Within The Amélie Scrapbook, we discover four subdomains. “Behind the Scenes Photos” includes 16 shots and one of the more annoying interfaces I’ve recently seen. You can “zoom in” for the photos, but this only makes them a little bigger. To advance to the next picture, you have to hit three buttons, and that gets old after a while. Why not just make the bigger setting the default one? The inclusion of the slightly smaller pictures seems nonsensical.

Next we find 17 “French Poster Concepts” and some “Storyboards”. The latter cover five screens. Oddly, they just duplicate what we see in the earlier “Comparison”; why not run something fresh here? Lastly, “The Garden Gnome’s Travels” shows seven of those photos, which add a nice examination of those shots.

Finally, Cast and Crew Filmographies gives us rudimentary information. We find listings for actors Tautou and Kassovitz as well as director Jeunet.

Despite my substantial misgivings, I must admit I enjoyed Amélie, at least to a moderate degree. The movie never fully dispelled my preconceived notions about it, but it managed to present a generally entertaining and amusing piece. The DVD offered very strong picture quality along with restrained but solid sound and a very nice collection of extras. I never thought I’d say this, but Amélie merits a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4152 Stars Number of Votes: 171
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