AMELIE directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Miramax, 2002

Few films of the past year resonated with audiences as much as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. Not since (yawn!) Cinema Paradiso artfully plucked North American heartstrings over a decade ago, has a foreign film so successfully endeared itself to fans and critics alike. It's typical, however, for the monster of hype surrounding such universally-adored phenomena to get caught in the cross-hairs of disparaging cineastes, their reflexive pens poised in anticipation of pouncing on whatever too-good-to-be-true item of the moment has gripped the collective conscience. Amelie proved such a whipping boy.

Jeunet's benchmark effort, Delicatessen, tempered its cannibalistic subject matter with the levity of quirky romance, modest heroism, and an utterly alien setting. Amelie seems like a natural progression: a love story stripped of any gothic dissonance with, unfortunately, mounds of trivial human interest substituted in its place. The film does little to lend the “plot don't matter” school of thought much credence. Conforming to the most liberal of story definitions, wherein specific characters and events influence each other to form a meaningful narrative, Amelie still couldn't be any more meaningless.

Leading-lady Audrey Tautou's wide-eyed seductiveness lands squarely between such non-siren female archetypes as Audrey Hepburn and Giulietta Massina as seen in Fellini's La Strada. When she isn't busy injecting meaning into the lives of the less fortunate, Amelie pursues romance from afar. While more than willing and able to bring others happiness, some intangible force continually stifles Amelie from achieving personal fulfillment. Meanwhile, an affable assortment of café kooks make themselves unobtrusively familiar, wrapping the viewer's peripheral interest in their own equally insipid, however ‘cute', personal matters.

Understand that I'm no dogged stickler for intricate plot. There is much to be said about the simple, the uncluttered, even the episodic. As lots of film and literature have shown, the most basic yet disciplined premise is capable of ample profundity, even when providing little more than a keen illumination of banality. Although Amelie's vulnerability seems to be derived of the basic human desire for companionship and the pain of unrequited affection, Jeunet never quite kneads this material into convincing art. Her plight may be familiar, but there's no sympathy to be won when Amelie's inhibitions are a product of her own hard-to-get tendencies. Moreover, her artificial hard-luck is nerve grating and amounts to little more than a multi-million dollar tantrum. While her object of desire does black-flips in attempts of securing a connection, annoyingly coy Amelie willfully prolongs her solitude through pointless games of chase. Cute? To lots of folks, apparently. But one needs more than a flirty, evasive disposition to make a strong case for the lovelorn, especially with a mission-statement bent on rejuvenating audiences to life (universal consensus being the desire to live life with new zest after having seen Amelie. Apologies and sympathies if you're among said demographic.).

From the unctuous narrative voice that propels the film, to the seductively self-conscious camera trickery, all the way down to the Satie by way of Morricone soundtrack, it's difficult not to like Amelie. The visuals never stop engaging, nor do they grant subtlety a moment to hammer a point home. Even the overly idyllic France it paints is forgivable in light of able cast performances and aesthetic cogency ('course, you could hire a real smart chimp to do same with a fancy camera, but I'm trying to be almost nice here, friend.). But all this amounts to is distraction when one leaves a movie feeling they've been had. Which is what I would call Amelie—a distraction. A recess from life while we engage in therapy en masse, then devise our own Amelie-esque stratagems in the real world. Call me unfair (you'd be the hundredth person to do so), but a film's attempt to make us feel sorry for a character who merely craves attention is—presented as this film is—itself merely a ploy for attention.

Amelie slyly draws viewers into the main characters' roles and psyches, facilitating the grand delusion that what we're feeling is not only worth mulling over, it is of such surpassing consequence that it merits the sympathy of big-screen immortalization. Whatever the human condition is, it's certainly not what's represented in Amelie, and any good, hard look through the thicket of special effects and false hope will make it plainly obvious.

I try not to deprive myself of entertainment simply because it's popular or released on a major label; nor do I see movies or listen to music with pad and pen in hand. I go on what my gut tells me, how I feel when I leave the world of the respective art-product. Based on that, I then try to mentally locate what elements spurred my elicited emotions and write 'em down. I didn't dislike Amelie because it was sweet, or romantic, or popular (dug Lord of the Rings and Royal Tanenbaums just fine, thanks), or French (I'm a Canadian who swears by Renoir), or far removed from reality. I disliked it because its whole appeal rested upon an intimate identification with the title-character, and, cynical, irredeemable me—I'm afraid I just didn't bite.

-Armen Svadjian


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