on November 02, 2001 by Lael Loewenstein
Having deemed "Amélie" an insubstantial trifle not suitable for his official selection, Cannes programmer Gilles Jacob was eating crow at this year's festival. In a move that upstaged Jacob, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen") released his film in France shortly before the festival to rapturous reviews and enthusiastic crowds. One of the most successful homegrown products ever released in France, "Amélie" is poised to take on the U.S., where it is sure to get a strong push from Miramax Zoë.

Almost impossible not to like, Jeunet's magical realist tale follows a shy young woman (Audrey Tatou) who blossoms through her good deeds. A brisk series of scenes, narrated by André Dussollier, provide all the exposition needed to explain Amélie's sheltered childhood: raised at home, the girl had few friends and consequently created a vibrant inner life. Now grown, she resides in the artsy Montmartre section of Paris and waitresses in a local café.

One day, by chance, Amélie discovers an old box filled with childhood trinkets hidden in her apartment and resolves to track down its owner, a man who had tucked it away decades before. Encouraged by her success, she becomes a neighborhood Good Samaritan. Bit by bit, through her almost imperceptible gestures, she begins to heal the wounded lives of those around her. Amélie plays matchmaker to the café's crusty cashier (Isabelle Nanty) and curmudgeonly customer (Domenique Pinon), and she helps a gentle grocery boy (Jamel Debbouze) forge a truce with his misanthropic boss (Urbain Cancellier). But as for her own life, Amélie is reluctant to take risks, until she finds a match in an equally quirky young man (Mathieu Kassovitz) whose hobby is collecting discarded pictures from photo booths.

What sets "Amélie" apart from other magical realist fables is that Jeunet has created such an inviting and fully realized world, part dreamscape and part reality. In the hands of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designer Aline Bonetto, Jeunet's Paris teems with life. Enhanced with digital color and judiciously placed visual effects, it's a Paris of the imagination peopled with unique and unforgettable characters. Not the least of these is Amélie herself, who is embodied by the radiant Tatou in a star-making performance. Starring Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz and Serge Merlin. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Produced by Claudie Ossard. A Miramax release. Comedy. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 121 min

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