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Amelie (Blu-ray Review)

25 Jul, 2011 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kasovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta.

The story of a gamin-like cutie who plays a good Samaritan/Cupid to the detriment of her own stunted emotional development, France’s internationally popular five-Oscar nominee (a striking tally for a foreign-language release) offers proof that modern-day movies can still “do” saturated color. So though the Blu-ray bonus extras go the old Buena Vista DVD’s one better by adding a commentary by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to the original tally, it’s the added ocular benefits that get my vote when it comes to maximum enjoyment of Jeunet’s peripatetic screen original. Blu-ray visuals at their most whip-snappish are their own reward, and the price is right here, too.

No one even fools with explosive pigments very much these days because I think it’s assumed that tastes have so evolved to such a degree since the glorious Technicolor days of the ‘40s and ‘50s that audiences probably don’t want many of their movies to suggest picture postcards. Personally, I’d like to see this assertion put to a test at least in movies not directed by auteurs (one can assume that they know what they want — and don’t). So many modern-day releases — comedies, especially — look like exercises in drabness from the second they come out of the lab, looking even more washed out when they show up on movie cable stations. Often, their Blu-ray editions are of such negligible quality over the standard DVDs (I’m looking at you, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) that distributors might as well be machine-gunning the superior format’s golden goose. But not in Amelie: the intensity of vital reds and greens readers used to see in Christmas-season magazine advertisements from 60 and 70 years ago — often, alas, hawking Lucky Strikes or their brethren — didn’t have anything on what we get here.

As for the method of storytelling here … if it’s a Jeunet movie (think almost everything from co-directed The City of Lost Children to solo A Very Long Engagement with Amélie star Audrey Tautou), you know it’s going to be “busy.” So, yeah: even though I’m one of those who’s touched and charmed and dazzled by this movie, it’s understandable why several first-rate critics, worn down over the course of 122 minutes, found this one to be too elaborate by at least half. I don’t specifically recall if there’s any scene here where a character scratches his or her armpit — but if there were one, Jeunet would first stage it like grand opera and then photograph it via something akin to one of Vincente Minnelli’s old swooping crane shots.

On the other hand, this is a filmmaker who really knows how to dress up a story frame by frame. And here, I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’ new and extraordinarily malnourished Larry Crowne — another feel-good movie with undercurrents of despair, and, like Amélie, packed with subordinate characters who are supposed to make us feel warm and cuddly despite the fact that they aren’t getting a very big piece of The Pie (or, you can bet, health coverage). In balance, Jeunet’s approach is the more honest one. Never once are we allowed to think that we’re looking at a real-life situation here — just “enhanced” reality. And this includes one or two enhanced sexual situations that got Amelie one of the sillier ‘R’-rating designations in recent history.

In a performance that can’t help but bring back privileged memories of another gamin-like Audrey, Tautou’s heroine extends personal charity to lonely potential lovers, an elderly friend, a video store employee and even her own father. More than anyone else, the character is good for the eye-twinkle that is her movie’s reason for being, and we want to see her (and the actress who brings her to life) rewarded. So what was Tautou’s own reward? Ending up in the screen slop that was The Da Vinci Code, where hopefully the money she was paid was enough to compensate for the fact that she came off as just one more across-the-Atlantic actress — and in a movie that a lot more people saw than Amelie — who couldn’t arm-wrestle English to the ground.

But at least Amelie had its day, what with its Oscar nominations for foreign-language film, original screenplay (Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant), sound (another plus carried over to this home release) and double-barreled cosmetic nods for cinematography and art/set decoration. So how do you get four additional nominations and not win in the foreign-language category? Not to take anything away from Bosnian winner No Man’s Land, which would probably have been better positioned as an overlooked sleeper ripe for rediscovery, but outstanding war movies come and go in a way that one-of-a-kinds like Amelie never do.

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