DVD Review: Amelie
By Glenn Abel
Jean-Pierre Jeunet doesn't have love and hate tattooed on
his knuckles, but he might want to consider it. The French director has a
burning desire to tell the world of his likes and dislikes, and even made a
movie to do just that -- "Amelie."
The crowd-pleasing import opens with a dizzying 20 minutes that surveys Jeunet's peculiar takes on the good, bad and ugly of life as seen through the eyes of a lonely French girl and her family. Jeunet loves looking back at fellow moviegoers' faces in cinemas, but can't stand the inadvertent touch of a stranger's hand. Loves breaking open creme brule with the back of a spoon; hates wet clinging swim trunks. And so on.
The lengthy prelude cost director Jeunet ("Delicatessen") some sleep as he feared losing the audience, but it was, he says, the reason he made the film. As well as the opportunity to tell 25 years' worth of quaint stories and to share his collection of "strange pictures" taken from French TV. The comedy (aka "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain") is about as personal as it gets outside of autobiography. And if anyone was still wondering, the director proclaims deep in the DVD version of the film, "I am Amelie!"
We know Amelie better, of course, as French actress Audrey Tautou, the highly photogenic but rubber-faced comedienne who charmed audiences worldwide. The French-language movie about an impish young woman who tries to better the lives of those around her became an unlikely global hit. It ended its theatrical trek as the most successful film in French history. "Amelie" won major awards around the globe, notably five Oscar nominations, including best original screenplay and cinematography. "Destiny was behind this movie," says Jeunet, who remains somewhat puzzled by its success.
Miramax Home Entertainment has released "Amelie" as a two-disc DVD set (retail $29.99). Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's bold images are captured in widescreen (2.35:1), with enhancements for 16:9 monitors. The odd but captivating green color scheme, saturated to verdant plushness in digital post-production, looks great. The cirque reds, blues and yellows retain their vibrant pop. The Dolby Digital (5.1) audio, however, fails to keep up with the playfulness of the Oscar-nominated sound editing (no DTS, alas). Still, the sound is strong and clear. Rear speakers are used sparingly, leaving the heavy lifting to the front three. Center channel voices are clear and resonant without boominess; the subwoofer stays busy keeping up with the boomerang dynamics. The film has English and Spanish subtitles as well as English descriptions for the hearing impaired.
"Amelie" is one of the few foreign-language films to use the DVD format to its potential. Enthusiastic DVD collector Jeunet says he was inspired by M. Night Shyamalan's work on the first "Sixth Sense" DVD and by Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" commentary. Jeunet, who recently polished up his English, jokes that he finally understood his 1997 U.S. film "Alien Resurrection" when he could read the DVD's French subtitles. "Amelie" DVD extras including director's commentaries in English and French, some fun outtakes featuring Tautou, screen tests, a cast Q&A session, a photo gallery with a handy zoom feature, a dozen or so excellent trailers, a storyboard study of the ghost-house ride and TF1's "intimate chat" with the director (he is everywhere on these discs). Menu screens are beautifully done, mixing stylized cast photos and scratchy moving images.
Jeunet can be hard to understand at first, but the director soon proves a captivating storyteller. The tale of "Amelie" as he tells it begins with a crisis, in which Emily Watson -- for whom the screenplay was written -- decides not to make the film for personal reasons. Jeunet gets lucky right away, though, as the first casting session produces Tautou, a relative newcomer he had spotted on a poster. Disc 2 includes her screen test, which made the director's casting decision an easy one. (There are a few clips of the actress having her long hair cut into the famed Amelie bob.) Jeunet notes that finding young actors in France is especially tough, with no Brad Pitt-like heartthrobs on the scene. Jeunet cast fellow director Mathieu Kassovitz as the leading man, while local star Jamel Debbouze agreed to take a supporting role because of his love of "Alien."
Jeunet, who had never worked off a soundstage before, shot the outdoor scenes in Paris and the indoor scenes in Germany. There are too few stages in France, he explains. The location crew had to grapple with 20 straight days of rain and uncooperative Parisians. "French people sometimes are very mean," Jeunet says, citing the case of one brute who parked in front of the camera, refusing to move and costing the production a precious hour of shooting. Drug dealers had to be paid to leave their street corners. The ever-present dog waste was swept away and the crush of cars hidden as he created a fantasy Paris. "It was a new game for me," Jeunet says of working outside. Will the director work on location again? "I'm quite certain he won't," says cinematographer Delbonne.
Jeunet felt more at home in the cafe scenes, shot about a mile from his home in a Paris suburb. The cafe is now a tourist attraction, he says proudly. Residents are unhappy with him because rents have gone up in the area due to its fame, Jeunet says.
The director ("City of Lost Children") famously involves himself in almost every element of his films, from art direction to music to costumes to set design. No detail is too minute. He plots film speeds and lens selection months in advance, knowing exactly which angle he wants to capture with his beloved short lenses. "He prepped so much that we knew everything we had to do from the first day to the very last," Delbonne says. "It's super precise," actor Debbouze says. "Nothing is left to ponder." While Jeunet seems quite obsessive, "it is only a way of writing," Delbonne says philosophically.
A 13-minute featurette on "The Look of 'Amelie' " shows Jeunet and Delbonne working their visual magic. Jeunet replaced the sky in many of his outdoor shots, preferring to create his own weather digitally. The seemingly naturalist film is in fact crammed with special effects, he points out. A scene in which Amelie skips rocks across water was done digitally because the actress couldn't get the hang of throwing stones. The "explosion of color" in the film came as digital timing was manipulated to saturate the images. "We could change everything (digitally)," Jeunet says. "It was a miracle."
True to the spirit of "Amelie," the typical making-of featurette is replaced by "home movies" that have fun with elements from the film such as the photo-booth snapshots and the hilarious orgasm blitz. The screen-test section includes a must-see performance by Yolande Mureau, who powered her way into the role of Amelie's landlady.
Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter
Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter
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