Amelie Review

This is a review of the French release of Amélie. You should also note that the reviewed DVD features no English subtitles nor English soundtrack. There are French subtitles included which may be of comfort to some.


The story:

Amélie has always led a quiet and solitary life. Her relationship with her parents was always a little lacking on the emotional front and has made her into an isolated young woman when she finally leaves the family home in her late teens. She moves to Montmartre and becomes a waitress in a local café. Her life however takes a different turn when discovering with shock the death of Lady Diana she drops the top of her perfume bottle starting a typically "Jeunetesque" train of events that will give her a new aim in life: making others recover some of the happiness they may have lost in the past. However, can she be truly happy making others happy especially when one longs to meet someone else that will make her complete?


Although the plot is probably quite thin on paper the film really does prove the Gestalt principle of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The film in itself is quite simply enchanting and genuinely moving. Of course, for the fans of the Jeunet/Caro films this can be seen as too much of a departure from the likes of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children: there are no real dark sides to the Paris that Amélie lives in and the film can be seen as quite moralistic in parts. Still Jeunet's mesmerising style is clearly present in every single shot of the movie and I have my doubts whether Caro would have added anything more than a few bitter twists to the story. Audrey Tautou and Matthieu Kassowitz (director of La Haine) feature as the two main protagonists whilst the rest of the cast is the usual array of Jeunet/Caro physiques: those strange, unusual looking people who although not being classically beautiful have something in their faces that causes you to stare at them. Dominque Pinon -probably the strangest looking actor to ever get lead roles- appears alongside the stand-up comic Jamel Debbouze, Yolande Moreau and others.

With all the positive reviews that the film got in France, the film did arrive in the UK with a massive hype behind it that in my opinion can only damage a film rather than do it any good, that said I have yet to meet someone who was not besotted by it. If you haven't yet had the chance to see this film, I can only recommend you to see it on the big screen before it ends its run as you are more than likely to enjoy it.

The DVD:
This is a special pre-Christmas limited release of the film only available in France. I suspect the 50000 copies available will be sold out pretty fast as this was one of the most successful French films ever made. The price was also pretty special weighing in at around 350 Francs (circa £35)! The good news is that there will be a release of the 2 DVDs without all the material extras from this edition, which will be priced more conservatively... This edition will be released on 9th January in France.

The packaging:
This is clearly what you're paying for in the first place. No substandard cardboard box but an enamel cake tin to put all of the contents into it (similar to the Delicatessen/City of Lost Children boxset). The contents are a poster of the film (40 by 60 cm), a booklet featuring an interview with Jeunet and filmographies, 8 photos from the film and 8 photos of the garden gnome (you'll have to watch the film to understand that one!). Added to this we get the soundtrack and the film on DVD both packed in neat digipaks. Well let's pop that DVD into the player and get on with it!

The image:
This is simply a superb transfer- it's correctly framed and anamorphic with the beautiful colours coming out perfectly. I didn't notice much grain or artifacting throughout, nor could I pick up and edge enhancement. Given that it is a pretty recent release, I was expecting a good transfer and must confess I am pleasantly surprised by this one. Probably not the best I've ever seen but definately worth a 9.


The sound:
Again this is quite exceptional: we have the option of DD 5.1 or DTS. Despite this not necessarily being a film that will push your system to it's limits, it sounds fantastic with a good use of the surround system and the nostalgic soundtrack sounds wonderful on it. It does also have it's sonic moments (esp. with some of the characters screams-a truly hair raising experience!). The DTS does as usual sound slightly better than the DD track but not as markedly as I would have expected. A top notch track that we can only hope will be featured on the UK release.

There's also an "audiovision" track (like the one featured on the House of Mirth and Gangster No. 1). This alternates between a female and a male actor and is a great feature that should be featured on more discs. Also for the hard of hearing there are some really detailed subtitles in French. This could be of use for those who have a good knowledge of French but who find oral comprehension quite difficult. Sadly no other subtitles are available so a good level of French is needed for a full enjoyment of the film.


The extras:
These are mostly featured on the second DVD bar the audio commentary by Jean-Pierre Jeunet which is as usual really interesting and almost pause free. He's one of the most eloquent directors about and is up there with the likes of Oliver Stone when it comes to DVD commentary: a great extra. On the second DVD, we have a tremendous amount of extras: these are subdivided into 5 different areas (the café, the train station, the métro, Amélie's flat and the fairground) each featuring its own extras:

The café features "Foutaises" a short film by Jeunet which already had the idea of presenting a charcter by what the like and what they hate. The excellent Pinon offers his likes and dislikes to the camera in black and white in 8 minutes. Then we have 6 minutes of camera tests with 3 of the actors (inc. Tautou) and finally we have a storyboarded scene (the fair scene) which can be seen with or without the film.

The métro looks at the marketing aspects of the film so we have the various film covers they dreamt up, the trailer and 5 teasers.

The fairground features a presentation done by Jeunet and crew in Lille which is 6 minutes long (which features Jeunet slagging off Kassowitz for the Crimson Rivers), the 8 polaroids of the garden gnome and a 23 minute talk by Jean-Pierre Jeunet talking about the film, the promotion and why the film did so well. He also ends by talking about the slating he got from one critic (Serge Kanganski) who for some obscure reason accused Jeunet's film for being an advert for the fascist party!

Amélie's flat has photos from the sets and a blooper reel (3 min) with the added bonus of a 13 minute home made behind the scenes.
Finally the train station features the obligatory filmographies and other credits. Also there is a DVD-Rom feature with the usual links to internet sites, a screen saver and 5 desktop backgrounds.

So is there anything missing from these extras? Well there were some intresting interviews with Tautou and Jeunet that were available on the website and some deleted scenes do exist so these extras do have a slight feeling of being incomplete. Nevertheless, the included extras are good so I shouldn't winge too much.

The menus:
Amongst the best I've ever seen. Maybe not as high-tech as the Crimson Rivers, but the transitions are tasteful (a skimming stone ricochets over the surface of the screen), the menus are all animated and somehow change every time you return to them. The DVDs both have a wonderful opening sequence and in the background we can hear Yann Tiersen's excellent soundtrack.


Conclusion:

This DVD is likely to be played over and over again so I can only be delighted at this top-notch release of my favourite film from last year. This DVD, although currently only available in this special boxset, will soon be released in a standard edition with all the DVD extras. For those whose French is up to scratch, it's well worth getting it. For those whose French isn't up to scratch one can only hope that the distrubutors for the UK will put together a quality release that uses the master from this DVD and most of the extras.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

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