Amelie

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Amelie

A whirling, eager-to-please, visually striking contraption, Amelie opens with a fast-paced history of its eponymous Parisian heroine's early years, connecting each major development of her childhood to a matrix of coincidental, imperceptibly connected events. A kind of localized piece of chaos theory, with suicidal Newfoundlanders and other oddities taking the place of flapping butterflies, Amelie presents a vision of the world that could have come from few directors other than Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jeunet and erstwhile co-director Marc Caro first attracted widespread attention with Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children, both showcases for intricately choreographed displays of behind-the-camera bravado and clever production design that pleased the senses without engaging the brain or the emotions. (Jeunet's subsequent solo effort, Alien: Resurrection, displayed the same problems and then some.) Perhaps as a form of overcompensation, Jeunet places a big, beating heart at the center of Amelie in the form of Audrey Tautou, a wide-eyed, indefatigably good-natured young café worker who takes delight in attempting to improve other people's lives while ignoring her own happiness. But even with such a pleasing presence, Amelie runs into many of the same difficulties Jeunet faced in the past. For all her winsome smiles, Tautou ends up embodying the emotional reserve of the director's films. Inspired by her successful reunion of a collection of childhood mementos with its middle-aged owner, Tautou begins to work, from a distance, to bring happiness into the lives of those around her by subtly disrupting the flow of everyday life without directly involving herself in the action. In a sense, she's the ultimate Jeunet heroine, present but untouched by events around her. Even the film's decision to pair her off with a similarly disposed young man seems to come from romantic convention, not any other impulse. It's hard to shake the notion that Jeunet makes films primarily because he needs a place to collect his ideas. Amelie contains enough material for a dozen or so charming shorts, but stretched to feature length, the whimsy grows wearisome, and the film delights far less than it seems to desire.