dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Opens Fri Nov 9
Fox Tower

The world's great cities carry automatic associations when portrayed on film. As Movie Venice is to dissolution and Movie New York is to crime, Movie Paris, of course, is to love. Although this is a reductive analysis, it's nonetheless reflexive, and lies at the heart of what makes Amélie, the heaving swoon of a Parisian fairy tale by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, so wonderful. Much like the hyper-stylized landscapes of Jeunet's previous films Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Alien Resurrection, the Paris of Amélie is a glorious fake, crafted from equal parts imagination, invention, and memory. But where Jeunet's prior works turned so successfully on their nightmarish evocations, Amélie is all a good dream: vivid, supersaturated, and bathed in warmth.

Despite its fairy-tale reality, the world of Amélie, and Amélie herself, are far from ideal. She lives a solitary life in a dainty apartment, edified only by the tiniest sensual pleasures. Alive as she is, Amélie may as well be invisible.

After learning of Princess Diana's death, Amélie stumbles upon a small tin box full of old toys and contrives to find its owner, a middle-aged man who hid the box when he was a boy. Seeing the man's reverie of tears and wonder upon rediscovering this relic, steels her resolve to become something like a guardian angel/secret detective, performing acts of surreptitious kindness (and impish revenge) to help strangers negotiate "the ebb and flow of universal woe." These ingenious and hilariously conceived "stratagems" include sending her father's garden gnome on an international voyage and playing matchmaker to a hapless couple.

Although she derives pleasure from these escapades, they ultimately only emphasize her feelings of invisibility (she never reveals herself to her beneficiaries). What Amélie really craves is love--specifically, the love of the strange guy who digs around photo booths for discarded pictures, which he pastes into albums--and naturally, her quest for it requires the most elaborate stratagem of all (the better to forestall the inevitable happy ending).

Jeunet's film has drawn criticism in Europe for not being "real." One review even went so far as to deem the film's glorified depiction of modern Paris irresponsible to the point of verging on fascism. Such complaints, while predictable, remain confounding in the face of a film of such sincerity.