Amélie (AU - BD)
Chris checks out the Australian Blu-ray release of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's feature
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Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is a twenty-something French girl who had a very sheltered upbringing thanks to her neurotic mother and dispassionate father. After breaking a tile in her apartment Amélie happens upon a small tin box, which contains the forgotten childhood treasures of one of the apartment’s previous occupants, and she takes it upon herself to return these once-cherished items to their rightful owner. So begins Amélie’s tale, as she tries to breathe happiness into the lives of those around her, from the people at the local café where she works, to her father, and a frail painter who lives in a different part of the apartment block.
During her quest she meets many varied and interesting people, including a mysterious man who collects the torn up photos that people leave behind at photo booths. Before long she becomes embroiled in a game of cat and mouse with the stranger, following him all over the city leaving clues for him to follow. She finally gets her chance to meet him when she returns one of his treasured photo albums, but after years of relative isolation will Amélie be able to overcome her shyness and find happiness?
Jeunet presents the district of Montmartre in a highly stylised manner. From what I’ve been able to ascertain, not only did he choose to heavily colour grade the film in post-production, he went as far as digitally removing graffiti and other modern-day eyesores to create an idyllic, postcard-perfect vision of Paris. This is largely responsible for the fairy-tale atmosphere exhibited throughout. Of course the greatest backdrop in the world is useless if you don’t care about the characters, but thankfully that’s not an issue here. The most memorable performance is from Audrey Tautou, who plays eternal fantasist Amélie with a wide-eyed innocence. However, the rest of the cast deliver solid performances and are responsible for much of the humour, with Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon proving particularly amusing in his role as the jealous ex-lover. It is the interaction between Amélie and the other characters that forms the core of the feature, and ultimately what makes it so uplifting. I don’t want to go on about the feature for too long, partly because this is a Blu-ray review and partly because I’m not the greatest film reviewer in the world, but I will say that if Amélie can touch even a cynical old sod like me there’s hope for us all.
Amélie arrives with a strong 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC). There have been numerous releases of the film worldwide, including a costly Japanese effort, a 1080/60i Canadian disc, and a native French release with a new transfer personally supervised by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Sadly Icon Australia doesn't use that as the basis for its Blu-ray release, but the image is still very pleasing to the eye and unless you had the opportunity to compare the different versions side-by-side I doubt you’d have cause to complain. The main difference between this release and the French disc is that contrast runs a little hot here. This can occasionally blow out whites and hide very fine detail in the brighter areas of the picture. However, it is consistent with previous DVD releases, so it would seem that the remastered version is a case of Jeunet going back and correcting something he wasn't happy with. It could be argued that this is actually a more faithful representation of the source than the tweaked version, but let's not open that can of worms just now.
In any case, judging Amélie’s transfer isn’t an easy task, due largely to the highly stylised way in which it is presented. The image has a yellowish-green cast throughout the majority of the runtime, which obviously makes it difficult to comment on the accuracy of the colour rendition. What I will say is that it looks very close to my DVD release, although with the usual benefits afforded by Blu-ray (stronger hues and less bleed). The level of detail is also dramatically improved, although the film is actually quite soft by design so you’re not going to see the sort of razor-sharp clarity associated with digital productions. As previously mentioned the contrast can occasionally obscure details in the highlights, but not to the extent of something like the recent Léon Blu-ray. Save for the odd white speck I didn’t see any particularly distracting artefacts while watching the film, and even when zooming in on still images there’s not a lot to complain about. There’s a reassuring layer of grain to dismiss any notion of filtering, something that often blights catalogue titles, and I couldn’t spot any obvious edge enhancement or the like. While there's no substitute for seeing a film in motion screen captures are often a good indicator of quality, and I hope you'll agree that the images on this page look great. Amélie is a beautiful film that looks equally lovely on this Blu-ray.
The sole audio track is a French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 effort. Now it's been a while since I last watched my DVD copy of Amélie, so I can't say I'm particularly familiar with the film's soundtrack, but I wasn't expecting the DTS-HD track to have too much trouble with a romantic comedy. It starts of relatively sedately, with the sound of a bluebottle buzzing front the rear left surround to the front of the soundstage. As the film progresses surround channel utilisation ramps up a bit—mostly for ambient effects like rainfall, wind, chirping crickets, birdsong and the sounds of a busy train station—and there’s a little more discrete action in the form of motorcycles and cars moving from the front to the rears. The LFE channel isn’t really called upon all that often, but there are a few memorable moments including the Canadian tourist landing on Amélie’s mother, the sound of Amélie’s beating heart, and the lovemaking in the café. Even so, this isn't an action movie so don't expect earth-shattering bass. The whimsical score by composer Yann Tiersen sits pleasantly alongside the rest of the track’s elements, never overpowering the dialogue or effects. As for the dialogue, although I don’t speak French I’m happy to report that it is very clear, so those of you lucky enough to understand the language shouldn’t encounter any problems with muddy speech.
The main pulling point of this Blu-ray release for native English speakers is the inclusion of English subtitles, which have been omitted from all of the other versions. The subtitles appear partially in the frame and partially in the letterbox area, but are easy to read and appear to offer a reasonably accurate translation in so much as they match the previous region two DVD releases and don’t contain any glaring errors. They do, however, translate the title as ‘The Fabulous Life of Amélie Poulain’, rather than ‘destiny’, alter Madeleine’s surname from Wallace to Wells, and change the destination of her cheating husband from Pampas to the more generic ‘South America’. Thankfully they don’t contain the errors reported on the region one DVD release.
The disc includes a very small selection of bonus material, all of which has featured on previous DVD releases of the film. Unfortunately the English-language Jeunet commentary track is not on the disc, which is a bit of a shame.
Audrey Tatau’s Funny Faces (02:07 HD): This is a very short blooper reel that shows the actress breaking character numerous times. Unfortunately it doesn’t include any English subtitles, so those of us who don’t speak French lack the benefit of understanding what people are saying (although ‘sorry’ seems to be the dominant word). Although technically presented in high-definition, the video is actually letterboxed and pillarboxed inside the 16:9 frame.
Storyboard Comparison (00:57 HD): This is a very short comparison between the original storyboards for the ghost train sequence and the completed footage. It’s really not much to get excited about, and is again letterboxed/pillarboxed.
Photo Gallery (01:55 HD): The gallery displays a number of behind-the-scenes photos set to music from the film. Like the previous content, it’s letterboxed/pillarboxed, but unlike most galleries it plays through automatically, so you can’t chose when to skip between images.
Making of Amélie (12:46 SD): The first three minutes of this brief making of featurette don’t have any dialogue, just a montage of images accompanied by music from the score, but even after this there’s not a whole lot of meaningful discussion. It’s actually more of a fly-on-the-wall, behind-the-scenes piece than a documentary. Again, the featurette lacks subtitles, which seems to be a bit of an oversight on a disc aimed primarily at the English speaking market. Unfortunately it rendered it fairly useless for me.
Amélie is a wonderful feel-good film that should melt even the iciest of hearts. I love its quirkiness and beautiful cinematography, with the delightful performance by Audrey Tautou serving as the icing on the cake. Technically this Blu-ray release is impressive, especially visually, and at this price you can almost overlook the lack of bonus material. Sure the French release has a slightly better transfer, but it's not English-friendly so that immediately rules it out for most people. Why wait for an age until the film gets a UK release when you can own this region-free disc now for a little over a tenner?
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
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Review by Chris Gould
Recommended for mature audiences.
Release Date: 4th November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
Extras: Blooper Reel, Storyboard Comparison, Photo Gallery, Making of
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Audrey Tautou
Genre: Fantasy and Romance
Length: 122 minutes
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