Cinema Signal:

Women's human rights in the Muslim World

. "Amelie"
(aka "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain" or, we assume,
"The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain")

This is a case of humor on steroids as writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Alien 4", 1997; "Delicatessen", 1991) lets loose with a 2 hour cannonade of boisterous ironies as it applies to a gamin faced, emotionally repressed mademoiselle and the people who inhabit her world. The style is a high energy barrage of cuts designed to quickly satisfy the audiences need to know each character's motivations fears and frustrations as seen through a pair of quite satiric eyes. The result is stylishly hilarious.

After growing up with a neurotic mother and a father who took no close interest, it's no wonder that Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tatou) must contend with feeling inferior. Having been discouraged from having friends, she has none -- no boyfriend (though she's obviously more appealing than the film lets on), no confidantes, and little purpose in life. But her discovery of a box of mementoes, hidden many years ago within a wall in her apartment building, leads her to investigate and track down the owner. Her doing so results in a reconciliation between a father and a son, and sets Amelie on what she divines as her destiny: to help others. Her life is now dedicated to this new mission.

An encounter that will further change her life occurs when she observes a man rummaging through a trash bin outside a self portrait machine in a train station. Later, she discovers that he is Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a part time cashier at an adult video store whose hobby is collecting rejected self-portraits and whose fixation is on a mystery man who leaves behind a countless number of them at machines all over the city. He chases the mystery man while Amelie chases him in order to provide help and understanding. This will involve some pursuits, some spy film intrigue choreographed by Amelie herself, and enough emotional involvement to overcome the limitations of her childhood and move her life onto yet another, more fulfilling path.

The escapade is visually vivacious and physically energetic, told in a quick-paced style of irony and sparkling comedy. Amelie is a delightful creation of shyness and mischievousness brought to life by a 24-year old actress who has just the right feel for the character and the material. She also has a busy career in the making and the exposure of her work in this film should expand that to include some offers from America before too long.

All involved have to have had much fun with "Amelie" since it so well manifests fun in the telling, ambidexterously mixing universal feelings and ironies of life as key ingredients for the humor.

But director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's virtuosity doesn't end with humor as his and Guillaume Laurant's script probes and combines other themes, such as voyeurism, domination, quirky individuality, psychological maturity and makes nice points about finding meaning in life. It's all done around Paris but the recognition of known types will resonate everywhere. Don't let the subtitles keep you away from this delightful entry into this years' lineup of entertainments. It is no accident that it's breaking records in France nor that it won the audience award at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival.

The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is first rate, as are all the technical credits.

Estimated cost: $10,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $22,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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