French sensation Amélie is more than just a pretty face,
Frisky Amélie, the biggest box office bonanza inIndeed, even the relentlessly endearing Amàlie herself is part of something salty and nearly grotesque in the effusive and rambunctiously abundant comedy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movie concoction. Amàlie is the sweet truffle in the midst of an assortment of salted-nut cases, and her charmingly wide-eyed leer hints that her very sweetness is itself odd enough to qualify her for full membership in the film’s gallery of eccentrics and grotesques.
The character’s holy-fool smile looms large in the film’s publicity, and that’s fine. But Jeunet’s film doesn’t really dance to its heroine’s tune. Instead, it revels in quirky characters and flippant story twists, and for all of Amàlie’s gentleness and altruistic sentiment, the film as a whole is pervaded by an acerbic and twisted tone, and its comedy is often brash and brutal in ways that Amàlie herself is not.
Many have already found Audrey Tautou irresistible in this role, but the film’s greater strengths and most crucial appeal come equally from its crowded story and its bursts of speed-freak comic action. Amàlie the waif, Amàlie the freelance doer of good deeds, Amàlie the inventive romantic—these are the key premises, but this is a film that also has multiple love stories, assorted quests, plenty of local color, a barrel of sight gags, and some dazzling digressions on an array of eminently Parisian subjects—food, drink, painting, photography, love.
Jeunet is still operating in the elaborately stylized territory of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, which he co-directed, but there’s a good deal more warmth and generosity at work this time around. Mathieu Kassovitz, himself a filmmaker, is good as a seemingly unlikely object of Amàlie’s affections, and the actor/activist known as Rufus is wistfully distracted as Amàlie’s father. Dominique Pinon, the punkish comic gnome in a line of French films from Diva to Delicatessen, is a standout in the menagerie of characters at the cafà/bar where Amàlie works.