After only a few films have I been left with an indelible sense of wonder and amazement. After watching the stunning and beautiful Amelie from Montmartre, I've been struck again. This is truly a touching, honest, emotional roller coaster ride, equipped with powerful but subtle scenes of unrequited love, comfortable loneliness, visual wonder, imaginary worlds, and phantom characters guarding the hearts and souls of their mental caretakers.

Amelie from Montmartre delivers the goods on all levels, with crafty storytelling, superb acting, and clever directing. The film follows the exploits of the young Amelie (Audrey Tautou), a shy, introverted girl with a dysfunctional past who lives alone in a small apartment in Paris. Amelie spends her days working at a local Parisian café, pines for the love of a strange boy who stalks the instant-photo booths of the Metro, and silently observes the lives of her neighbors.

One day, Amelie discovers a small tin box in the wall of her bathroom filled with a young boy's playthings, marbles and metal racecars. She decides to return the box to its original owner, thus returning the childhood memories held in the box to their rightful purveyor. In turn, the box acts a catalyst for Amelie's interactions with her neighbors. As she emerges from her self-inflicted emotional shell into their world, her imaginary friends -- in full CGI glory -- watch vigilantly over her as she ventures into the world of temptation, compassion, and unrequited love. The humor is sharp and witty, the characters speak not with words but with long, calculated movements, and the greatest joys are not always found in the greener pastures across the valley but in your own backyard.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is no stranger to making odd and wonderful films (with fellow co-director Marc Caro), such as the delectable Delicatessen and the inventive The City of Lost Children. Back in 1997, though, Jeunet headed for Hollywood, directing the abysmal Alien: Resurrection. Rest assured that Amelie proves Jeunet is back on top. Jeunet's camera work veers between the sudden urgency of a caffeine-induced fit to the lackadaisical wanderings of a lost child. The CGI effects bring to life the animated characters of Amelie's mind and emotional states.

But the real find of the film is without question Audrey Tautou. Her bright, wide eyes, full of perception and passion, drive the intoxicating allure of the film. In numerous subtle glances, Tautou convinces us of the planes she inhabits -- the imaginary and the physical.

Amelie from Montmartre stands as a testament that film, as an art form, can deliver both entertainment and enlightenment to the masses. Jeunet's simple story of an innocent girl with a big imagination whose only wish is to be loved is as powerful as they come. Highly recommended.

Aka Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. Screened at the 24th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival.

by Max Messier from

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