REVIEW: “Amélie” DVD

What: A 2-DVD set of the 2001 Jean-Pierre Jeunet film
Where: Stores Everywhere!
How Much: $29.99 MSRP; I paid $19.95 at Wal Mart

Ameile

It’s rare to hear the phrase “blockbuster French film”, but last year Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie stormed America’s shores to become one of the top-grossing foreign-language films in U.S. history. And it’s not hard to see why – Amélie is without a doubt one of the sweetest movies of all time. The achingly adorable Audrey Tautou plays Amélie Poulain, a shy and sheltered young girl who remains perpetually single. We see the world through the innocent lens that is her heart, a world in which she tries to fix the problems of all of those around her. Whether trying to pull her widowed father out of his self-imposed exile, bringing together two lonely people at the café where she works, bringing a invalid neighbor out of his shell or exacting her revenge on a green grocer who’s mean to his slow (but sweet) assistant, Amélie’s quixotic mission of spreading happiness forms the basis of the film. Then – thanks to a chance encounter with a beautiful stranger – she realizes that her own life needs the same love she’s spent so much time and effort spreading to others.

If this sounds like a typical love story, well… it is. But this movie is about far more than just a simple love story. It’s a feast for the eyes, a magical world where lamps talk, girls melt and televisions reflect the innermost thoughts of the soul. Rather than the camera being an impartial observer, we see things through Amélie’s big brown eyes. Jeunet has created a masterpiece, especially when backed by the excellent cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel. The artistic vision of the film and the resulting camerawork is… for lack of a better phrase fucking amazing. The movie is at turns incredibly funny, sometimes sad and always full of heart, yet it never goes overboard into any of those emotions. This is not your typical European roller-coaster film; you’re never taken into the deepest, gut-wrenching tragedy like an Igmar Bergman film. Nor is it overly sappy or predictable, as it would be if it were made in Hollywood and starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In fact, Amélie – light, sweet and fresh – is almost the antithesis of most European films, yet at the same time it’s absolutely French. More movies like this and I just might change my opinion of the French. In short, this is a film that will be studied in film classes for some time to come. Which makes it all the more of a shame that this film was absolutely robbed at this year’s Academy Awards. Amélie was nominated for five awards and came away with nothing. That is a tragedy of the first order and Hollywood should be absolutely ashamed for pulling that kind of stunt on such a wonderful film. That a French romantic comedy can gross $33 million in the US is amazing and it should not be ignored for a politically correct (and God-awful depressing) film about Kosovo.

Having gushed enough for one review, let’s review this DVD’s feature set:

Color, Closed-captioned, 2.35:1 Widescreen (122 minutes)
Movie in French with yellow English Subtitles
The “Amélie Effect” Featurette (English)
The “Look of Amélie” Featurette (English)
Fantasies of Audrey Tautou (French with English subtitles)
Q & A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (English)
Q & A with Director and Cast (French with English subtitles)
Auditions — Audrey Tautou, Urbain Cancelier, Yolande Moreau (French with English subtitles)
Storyboard Comparison
An Intimate Chat with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (French with English subtitles)
Home Movies – “Inside the Making of Amélie” (French with English subtitles)
“A Quai” Music Video
The Amélie Scrapbook — “Behind the Scenes,” French Poster Concepts
“The Garden Gnome’s Travels” and Storyboards
Trailers
Widescreen anamorphic format

The DVD

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way: this is one of the finest DVDs I’ve ever seen! The transfer is absolutely gorgeous – nearly perfect in every way! Miramax has done an excellent job with this film; to say that it is “worthy of something Criterion would put out” is the understatement of the year. Aside from two small “crispness issues” when the camera pans quickly through some fencing, this is the finest DVD I’ve ever seen – except for the Citizen Kane DVD, which says a lot in itself since Kane is my ultimate benchmark for DVD perfection. The colors are rich, beautiful and vibrant. There were no pixelation issues that I could see. The black levels are perfect. The level of detail is astounding. The subtitles – placed in the black bars necessary for the 2.35:1 presentation – are bright and easy to read. I simply cannot rave enough about the quality of this film. If you think I’m just blowing smoke, check out other reviews of the disc on the ‘Net. They agree.

I still don’t have my speakers set up, so I can’t comment on the sound. According to some other reviews I’ve read, the sound is “above average”. While it doesn’t suck, it’s apparently nothing to write home about. You’ll have to buy this and try it out on your own setup to decide.

The Extras

This disc comes with plenty of extras. It’s not what I’d consider “jam packed”, but there’s plenty of stuff to keep you interested. And it’s all very well produced and presented, unlike a lot of the “shovelware” you see on some discs these days. There is a running commentary on the main disc. Available in English or French, it’s entertaining, though I must confess that I haven’t yet listened to it in it’s entirety. I greatly enjoyed the “Look of Amélie” featurette, which features Jeunet and Delbonnel discussing how certain scenes in the film were shot, as well as the enormous effort Jeunet put in off-camera. For example, Jeunet spent 2 or 3 days prior to shooting visiting just about every Metro station in Paris – well over 100 of them – to find just the right station for filming. In several of the scenes filmed in the station, the colors were muted and the scenes were dark, but Jeunet still took care to make sure that almost every surface was shiny – his attention to visual detail is incredible, and you will see how much work and dedication that takes.

My favorite extra is called “Fantasies Of Audrey Tautou”. It’s a two-minute blooper reel featuring shot after shot after shot of Audrey giggling and making funny faces. I watched it about six times in a row last night. She’s so adorable and so French – it makes my heart flutter just thinking about it! I also enjoyed the screen tests – shot with a home video camera, it’s amazing to see the cast in “raw mode”. Tautou doesn’t look anything like Amélie, yet she seems perfect even then. I think that casting people have one of the hardest jobs in the business, taking someone who looks nothing like the final character, yet being able to see them through it all anyway. The rest of the features are fairly standard, yet are totally up to snuff. The Q&A features are funny and entertaining. The one with Jeunet runs around 26 minutes, while the one with the cast runs only around 5. The storyboard comparison is.. well, I think as a feature these are kind of “meh”, but I guess this one is as good as any. If you enjoy trailers and commercials, you certainly won’t be disappointed; there are 19 of them on the disc, 6 French ones and 13 US ones.

All in all, this is one of the best DVDs ever. If you don’t own it yet, run (don’t walk) to the nearest DVD vendor and pick up a copy today.

MY RATING: A++

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