Amélie (15)

PURE cinema comes along only rarely.

It’s not an epoch-setting event like the assassination of JFK or man landing on the moon, but it means whatever the film may be is remembered long after all others languish on the bottom shelf of the video store.

It happened with Citizen Kane, with The Godfather and Star Wars. And it has happened with Amélie; an utterly delightful slice of life based on the mischievous adventures of a shy young Parisian waitress who, through a good heart, alters the worlds of those around her for good.

Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou, a 23-year-old possessed of a remarkable talent and the most expressive face) finds herself propelled into a series of increasingly odd, and hidden, relationships with the people with whom she comes into contact when she unexpectedly discovers a box-full of children’s toys hidden in a recess in the wall of her apartment.

Returning it, and watching the now middle-aged owner’s delighted reaction, spurs Amélie on to do more of the same – helping out her neighbours, friends and relations and sorting out the bungles in their lives.

Their lives, like hers, are empty and meaningless. Amélie resolves to change that and, with a glint in her eye, she becomes inextricably involved in a series of manipulative good turns.

Her father longs to travel but won’t leave the house after the death of his wife. A neighbour, known as ‘the glass man’ because of a congenital illness that causes his bones to shatter, lives like a recluse, painting the same Renoir picture over an over again.

She also interferes in the day-to-day routines of her workmate, the bar-owner, the tobacconist, the concierge and the jealous lover. Pretty soon, all are benefiting from Amélie’s inspired taste for life’s small pleasures, and their existences are enriched by her benign interference.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the Frenchman whose acclaimed pictures include Delicatessen and Alien: Resurrection, and written by Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant, Amélie is a delightfully subversive picture in which everything happens for a reason.

Set in the artists’ quarter of Montmartre, it reveals a hitherto unseen picture of Parisian life that is part reality, part fairytale fantasy, but all pure Jeunet. He has a knack for settling on life’s eccentrics, loners and oddballs and making of them real people, with whom audiences can laugh, cry and interact.

His casting, once again, is spot-on. Tautou, previously seen only in French cinema, is about to go ballistic, while the supporting cast includes such Jeunet regulars as Dominique Pinon, Rufus, and Yolande Moreau.

Tautou is superb. She combines elfin grace with a schoolgirl’s energy and mischief – the perfect balance in a tale that could easily have turned to schmaltz.

Then again, that would have been the American way. In Jeunet’s hands, Amelie retains its edge, its quirkiness and that unique aesthetic. Quite simply, it is brilliant, unique entertainment.

Funny, sexy, but practically impossible to categorise, Amélie defies modern pigeonholing to emerge as the leader in a class of its own.

Pull a sicky, cancel that meeting or do whatever you have to catch Amélie. Drag your date to see it. I guarantee you’ll leave the cinema walking on air. It’s that good.

Like I said: pure cinema. You’ll remember this one forever.

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