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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

For those of us too young to remember what they were doing when JFK was shot, the big time landmark of our era is doubtless going to be – “what were you doing when you heard the news about Princess Di”? It felt like the last day of summer – 31st August 1997 – and I remember being woken up in the middle of the night to be told what had happened and then being glued to the telly for the next 24 hours.The death of Diana is also the event that puts the film AMeLIE in context. Not that the plot is in anyway related, it’s just that the incident begins the chain reaction which changes the life of the film’s protagonist Amelie forever.

The film begins with a gorgeous and tidy string of scenes. Introducing the characters is a narrator who tells us about the likes and dislikes of everyone involved in the story. Amelie likes cracking the tops of creme brulee, and enjoys the sensation of immersing her hand in sacks of lentils for example. Nino, our hero, works in a sex shop, but when he’s off duty likes to collect discarded photos from under passport photo booths in the major railway stations of Paris. This method of describing characters by their likes and dislikes continues throughout the film and reveals far more about the human condition than many hours of dialogue.

So what else do we know about Amelie? She grew up as an awkward girl who never quite fit in with other children . Her mother is neurotic, her father preoccupied with other things and even her goldfish has suicidal tendencies. Starved of physical affection, Amelie finds her heart beats wildly whenever anybody touches her. Consequently, she is wrongly diagnosed with a heart condition and has to be taught at home by her mother, thus forcing her to lead an even more sheltered existence.

When Amelie is old enough to go out into the world, she becomes a waitress and makes a life for herself in a small and friendly corner of the French capital. She decides it is her destiny in life to try and improve the lives of the people around her – the hypochondriac tobacconist, the jilted obsessively jealous barfly and the put-upon grocers assistant are just three of her projects. It’s still difficult for her to break a lifetime’s tradition of keeping her distance from people, but this is a love story and she is also destined to meet the man of her dreams. Even though it’s not going to be easy!

AMeLIE is full of wonderful observations about the human character. Charming eccentricity all over the place – and visually a sumptuous feast of reds, golds and warm light which not only makes Paris look gorgeous but is an absolute treat for the eye. This is the first time the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has worked outside the studio, but his control and attention to detail is still meticulous in the unruly backdrop of a real living city. Plus there are wonderful performances from everybody involved – Audrey Tautou is Hepburnesque, and Mathieu Kassovitz full of gallic charm – hard to believe in a different incarnation he could write and direct the disturbing but critically acclaimed LA HAINE.

For those of you who enjoyed DELICATESSEN you will not be disappointed. AMeLIE puts a spring in your step as you leave the cinema – it even made my journey back home on public transport all the more interesting as I began to speculate on all the weird and wonderful likes and dislikes of the anonymous personalities on my train.

5 out of 6 stars