Amélie (15)

Review by Simon Bell

SPECIAL FEATURES: Scene access; audio commentary from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; soundtrack in French; subtitles in English

BILLED as it is, as a film that will "make people happy", Amélie incorporates a story and style that combine to create a fantastic (in the traditional sense) spectacle of magical realism; it's a movie that explores childhood eccentricity and how innocent certainty can cause confusion and perplexity.

It's also a picture that has wowed more than seven million eager viewers on its home turf. Little Amélie Poulain is educated at home by overprotective parents after being incorrectly diagnosed with a heart condition. Following the loss of her mother to a freak collision with a suicidal Canadian tourist, Amélie grows up in a Wonderland of her own devising while Dad tends to his garden gnome.

Leaving the suburbs to become a waitress in a Parisian cafe, Amélie remains ensconced in her fabulous existence while secretly plotting to improve the lives of lonely neighbours, love-starred co-workers and her solitary father. It's only when she discovers a bizarre "family" photo album does our protagonist set out on a serpentine adventure through the streets of Montmartre to corner her own destiny.

As its original French title suggests, `Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain' is a fable - and who better to carry Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fairy-tale than relative newcomer Audrey Tautou, with her cartoon character wide eyes and cute Gallic beauty; a grown up (but no more reality-driven) Ludovic: Georges du Fresne in Alain Berliner's `Ma Vie en Rose' (1997), a film with which Amélie shares many positive similarities. Director Jeunet says he likes working with secondary characters and character actors - those with a "real face" - and it's just the casting of Tautou's support that lends the piece its gothic, circus feel, so brilliantly created previously in his cult masterpiece `Delicatessen' (1990).

Unforgettable is Dominique Pinon as the pathologically jealous cafe dweller with a penchant for popping bubble-wrap. But just as enjoyable are Claire Maurier the barkeep, Clotilde Mollet as the waitress/bone-cracker, and Mathieu Kassovitz (known to us Brits as writer/director of La Haine) who works in `Palace Video, King of Porno' while building a collection of photo booth strips and concrete footprints.

Ultimately, Amélie is an incursion into the fertile blend of dream, folk-tale and myth. And although highly successful with the dark dystopia of Alien Resurrection, here Jean-Pierre Jeunet concocts a strange but bright domain that functions according to its own, very entertaining logic.

RELATED STORIES: To find out where Amélie placed in Simon Bell's top 10 movies of 2001, click here...