Movies have been in need of an enchantress – the supply has run dangerously low. Now we have one. Audrey Tautou is her name, and you’ll want to remember it. In the role of Amélie, a waitress in a Paris cafe, the twenty-three-year-old Tautou is utterly captivating. Ditto the movie. There’s magic in it.
A few selection-committee snobs at film festivals in Cannes and New York wrote off Amélie as a fluff ball and foolishly shut it out of competition. The plot may be gossamer, but no way is director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who co-wrote the script with Guillaume Laurant, a slave to Hollywood formula. If you caught Jeunet’s Delicatessen, a 1991 comedy about cannibalism, or The City of Lost Children, a 1995 fantasy about stolen dreams, or even his flawed Hollywood film, 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, you already know the director is a thrilling visual stylist.
With Jeunet, you must expect the unexpected. Early in Amélie, a suicide leaps from a building and lands on Amélie’s hapless mother, killing her flat. No wonder Amélie is cautious about life. It doesn’t help that her father, a man obsessed with garden gnomes, has misdiagnosed her with a weak heart. Amélie observes life at a distance, that is, until she finds of box of toys in her apartment and decides to find the owner – now a grown man. The owner is overjoyed and Amélie, watching in secret, begins her life as a mender of broken hearts. Nothing too goody-goody; she also sticks it to the wicked. More crucially, she falls in love with a man, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), who haunts photo booths to make art out of the discarded pictures. Nino is Amélie’s kind of guy, though she’s too shy to say hello.
Only a spoilsport would give away Amélie’s secrets, or the event that brings her and Nino together. But as Jeunet and the brilliant cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel spin the camera around Paris, from Montmartre to Notre Dame, it’s hard not to fall under the spell of this moonstruck romance.