Amélie (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits Jean-Pierre Jeunet's cuteness overload classic on Blu-ray...
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? (Synopsis ripped-off from Chris Gould’s Aussie Blu-ray review)
The enduring financial success of Amélie in the United States likely had more to do with the nation’s mindset at the time than the film’s release than its enduring quality as a work of art. I could be reading too much into the national mindset during the fall of 2001, but can’t imagine a movie about an adorable, bright-eyed girl falling in love while taking considered effort to elaborately make other people’s lives better would’ve connected so dynamically with pre-9/11 2000s/late ‘90s audiences, especially in the States (it probably would’ve made even more money if it hadn’t been saddled with a ridiculously un-earned R-rating). This assumption has led me to attempt to judge the film a little more harshly than I would have a decade ago. Part of me wishes I could see beyond the utter preciousness of writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s vision, and treat Amélie (aka: Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain) the same way I would treat anything else patently created to flush my mind with high calorie endorphins. Amélie is feel-good porn. It’s emotionally exploitative. It tickles the same brainwaves as the dopey CG robots of the Transformers movies. But the truth of the matter is that Jeunet knows how to press the cute buttons with all the precision of a divine acupuncturist. I try to put on a brave face, but am helpless in the shadow of his diabolical powers. If they ever make LOL Cats: The Movie I’d vote for Jeunet behind the helm (‘The cat likes overhearing children’s stories’).
The film isn’t an entirely empty or shallow experience beyond the visuals, but there isn’t a lot to please the intellectuals in the house. There really is no proper plot aside from the point A to point B that is the title character’s love life. Instead Jeunet crafts a sort of anthology of shorts, then elaborates on the mise en abyme (framing story). Despite the fact that she doesn’t narrate the story, Amélie herself is basically the Cryptkeeper (and we’re talking classic 1972 Amicus Tales from the Crypt here), who instead of guiding sinful souls into hell, is guiding lost souls into happiness, all the while discovering her own happiness in the process. The tone between Jeunet’s film and Freddie Francis’ horror anthology is also comparable. Though Amélie doesn’t really deal in dramatic irony like Tales from the Crypt, it does deal in the pure emotions of a horror film. Jeunet isn’t concerned with narrative arcs (though he mostly fulfills them), or sociopolitical subtexts and metaphors, he’s obsessed with reproducing sensation, and he looks to achieve it through a non-tactile artistic medium. The film recalls the feel of temperature, texture, and emotional response without the benefit of an actual tactile presence. Jeunet raises the same hackles in joy that a good horror film raises in terror, and a cold night raises in chill. Ever ambitious, the film also captures the essence of collecting, and the palpable satisfaction that comes from fetish objects such as marbles. Amélie passes no judgments and even celebrates the preciousness of a crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Amélie was not Jeunet’s first work apart from his Delicatessen and City of Lost Children collaborator/co-director Marc Caro. Before cutting ties for a critical successful lighthearted comedy, Jeunet was hired to direct Alien Resurrection, and made his one and only stab at mainstream Hollywood action. Following the generally negative reviews (I tend to think he did his part, and most of the film’s problems revolve around Joss Whedon’s script), the director returned to his long gestating, pre-Caro dream project. Amélie has clear roots in all Jeunet’s other films, even Alien Resurrection, and especially Delicatessen, but also sees him moving away from his dark, amber visions, and towards something more candy-coated and vibrant. His preferred red, gold and green colour scheme remains in tact, but Amélie has a cleanliness about its vision, creating a generally positive aura despite the occasionally dark subject matter. Despite never having a real blockbuster between them, Jeunet and American writer/director Wes Anderson changed the film landscape early in the new millennium (some credit them with the rise of the uber nostalgic ‘twee’ movement, and both take many of their framing cues from Stanley Kubrick). The 2000s flourished with decorative textures and glowing pastels, for better or worse, and the growing influence of HD photography led television programming to follow suit. Clearly past influences had a loom largely over Jeunet’s work, but this one film would have a lasting visual impact beyond anyone’s realistic expectations. Curiously Jeunet himself wasn’t all the influenced by his own work here, and in his following features – A Very Long Engagement and Micmacs – were closer to the dark, amber visions of his earlier films, though they still maintained some of the more obvious visual trademarks ( Micmacs used a similar palette).
Amélie has had a rather lumpy life on international Blu-ray disc, including a 1080i Canadian release apparently many fans were unhappy with, and a director supervised French release featuring no English subtitles (I think…). Our own Chris Gould reviewed the Aussie R0 release, which did not use the new transfer, and had mostly nice things to say about it. After discussing the subject with him, and reviewing the screen caps on his review, I’m positive this 1080/24p transfer Lionsgate and Miramax is not the same, and suspect it may be the same, or at least similar to the French release. Unfortunately, I do not own the French release, and cannot find any good screen caps from it to compare to. Regardless, this transfer is incredibly colourful, and pushes both the green tint and general darkness further than the Aussie release and my Miramax DVD. I’m sure there will always be controversy among viewers as to which colour timing is preferable, and only add that from my point of view this abstraction of hues is preferable. I’ll start with the details, however, which are rather fantastic. The shot of Amélie overlooking the city and counting orgasms, and the shot of Amélie in bed looking through the picture book are both great examples of this transfer’s increased detail over the DVD release, though frankly it’s difficult to find any shot in this obsessively decorative film that doesn’t benefit from HD enhancement. Every set is adorned with baroque wallpapers, textured furniture, and tiny props, and almost every costume features complex textures and/or patterns, creating labyrinthine wide-angle shots. The studious close-ups on faces, paintings and baskets of beans fair even better, creating lavish landscapes all there own.
The film, which was digitally color-corrected at a 2K resolution (according to specs), often appears as a simple tri-tone printing – red, gold and green (apparently inspired by the paintings of the Brazilian artist Juarez Machado) – with a heavy black base (even Nino’s fliers are coated as such). Occasionally a solid blue will intrude into the mix (a Volkswagen Bug, a t-shirt, though almost never the sky), but for the most part cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s palette is incredibly graphic, like a comic book printed on a budget that only allowed him four colours (I understand in reality these four colours would be CMYK, and such specific hues would probably be Pantones, which are actually quite expensive, just let me have my analogy). There are variations in tone and shadow, but the intensity and general homogenous quality of the selective hues is pretty consistent. The reds in particular threaten to gouge the viewer’s eyes out with their utter vibrancy on a regular basis. Despite the trademarked importance (not literally) placed on the vibrant colours, one assumes the compositions would work quite well in black and white based on the biting contrast levels, which create fantastic, almost comic book-like outlines. The black levels match the colours in terms of consistent presentation, but I found the white levels a little dull, mostly due to the painterly qualities that prevent Delbonnel and Jeunet from going to light with their hues. In the end I actually appreciate this ‘issue’, and admit it was just as prevalent when I first saw the film in theaters, and on DVD. There is plenty of grain present on darker sequences, but overall this is a very clean transfer. I don’t notice any telltale signs of DNR interference either, just an occasionally fuzzy or haloed edge, usually during the sequences lit heavily in gold.
This Blu-ray release comes fitted with a solid, practically perfect for type DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French soundtrack (I didn’t test the English dub because I am a snob). There isn’t a lot of surround and stereo play or movement, but the soundtrack is expertly tweaked to push the cartoony nature of the film. Most of these quirks and spikes are situated in the center, or balanced evenly between the stereo channels (occasionally echoing into the rears, such as the moment where Amélie turns a key, but are mixed delicately, so as to maintain clarity. Vocal performances are pitch perfect, even while characters are whispering, and André Dussollier’s warm narration is quite crisp, with just enough LFE enhancement. The most aggressive channel movement usually takes place between scenes (sometimes we literally hear the ‘sound’ of the camera zoom’, during the more lively montages, or the bits where Amélie gears up to torture the fruit stand man (his growing insanity is also signified in frantic noises), but these aren’t very common. The rear channels are used mostly to create general ambience within the restaurant, or out in the streets of the city. Yann Tiersen’s music mostly underscores the film with a light touch, setting mood without dictating it, but there are a few brash moments of expression throughout, usually meant as an ironic sting of some sort.
The extras here more or less match the original two disc Miramax DVD releases, and begin with writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s commentary track. Jeunet gets off on the right foot by announcing that people that would prefer to maintain the magic of the film should turn him off, because he’s going to destroy it all. From here he effectively fills the time with a pleasant mix of technical information and behind the scenes anecdotes. The film was an incredibly personal exorcise for the director, and he’s sure to point out every ‘based on a true story’ aspect of the film. Spoiler alert: more ‘favourite things’ and character idiosyncrasies than you’d expect are based on Jeunet’s personal experiences, or the experiences of those close to him. His accent might be a little difficult to traverse for some listeners, but his enthusiasm is hard to misunderstand.
‘The Look of Amélie’ (12:50, SD) sees Jeunet, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and actor Mathieu Kassovitz discussing the film’s multiple award nominated photography. They point to the extreme palette, camera movement, location scouting and shooting, the value of prep, and digital colour grading. There are two Q and A session on the disc, one featuring Jeunet alone in LA (24:30, SD), and the other featuring Jeunet with the cast in France (6:00, SD). These are followed by more of the same in the guise of ‘An Intimate Chat with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’ (20:50, SD). Those who don’t like commentary tracks might want to just watch these instead, as they cover similar ground. ‘Home Movies: Inside the making of Amélie’ (12:50, SD) finished out the behind the scenes information via fly-on-the-wall footage of the cast and crew preparation. This includes looks at Tautou’s hairstyle, the photo booth pictures, Jeunet and Delbonnel staging shots (along with comparisons from the final film), actor preparations, picking orgasm faces, and shooting orgasm faces. ‘Fantasies of Audrey Tautou’ (2:10, SD) is a brief blooper reel of actress Tautou acting adorably embarrassed. It’s enough to make you wretch. The disc also features three screen tests (Audrey Tautou, Urbain Cancelier and Yoande Moreau, 6:30, SD), a storyboard to film comparison (2:20, SD), a trailer, and trailers for other Miramax/Lionsgate releases.
I cannot resist the tooth-aching sweetness that is Jean-Pierre Jeunet Amélie. Even when I try to approach the film with a stoic, intellectual eye I’m reduced to a puddle of smiles and, uck, feelings. Fans of the film should be very happy with this vibrant 1080p transfer, even if there are continuing arguments concerning colour saturation and contrast levels throughout the fan community. Personally speaking this is precisely what I wanted from the film. The DTS-HD French audio follows suit, and the extras match the previous US DVD release, including Jeunet’s director’s commentary.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. The Miramax DVD images have been resized to match the Blu-ray caps. 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.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th January 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, The Look of Amelie, Fantasies of Audrey Tautou, Screen Tests, Q&A with Director and Cast, Storyboard Comparison, An Intimate Chat with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Home Movies: Inside the Making of Amelie, Trailers, Amelie Scrapbook
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Serge Merlin
Length: 122 minutes
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