Amelie DVD Review

Cover Art & Packaging:
We should not be demanding of the DVD packaging I suppose, but it’s hard not to expect some extra goodies when some of them make an effort to jazz up the normally ordinary wrappings. Picture printing on media is not new. From the days of  LP picture discs to more recent music CD’s with every kind of artwork printed on them, the idea has been an attention grabber. Ultimately it’s pure aesthetics we are talking about, but who cares. When you buy a new DVD and  you open the box to find that they made the effort to make it something special, it’s well worth the purchase, and confirms your love of the whole Digital Versatile Disc technology and experience. You can see from the image to the right that the DVD’s have been printed to fit into the scene of Amélie in her bedroom. From first glance you are introduced to the saturation of color and rich atmosphere of Amélie’s universe. Yes your Honor, I plead guilty to being a sucker for the artsy-fartsy stuff. If you are a hard hearted cynic who thinks that DVD should be no frills, 100% about the technical aspects of a film and not about the packaging, marketing, or other such things, I apologize for the distraction.

Extras & Features:

  • Commentary – By all means, do not watch the movie with the commentary before you see it on its own. Jeunet is very revealing about technical trickery, hidden glitches and about plot eventualities. So, you will find out more than  you want to know about the story if you watch the commentary version first. By the end of this commentary you will have heard Jeunet say “This is my favorite scene.” about 20 times and he is well aware of it in his charming way he laughs and makes a joke out of the fact that he keeps praising so many scenes as the best of the movie. He loves his movies, mentioning others he has made several times, listening to him watch Amélie is an exciting example of his devotion of these, his children. He doesn’t hold back when he is unhappy about something however. He mentions many times when he would have liked to cut certain scenes because he wasn’t happy with them after watching the finished film. The commentary is Jeunet alone discussing every scene, almost every shot if he can talk fast enough. He points out many technical and more personal details along the way that fill in a lot of transparent effects or hidden bits and pieces that most of us would never even notice. Those details make the film that much more interesting and watchable the next time around. He seems to think he is demystifying the process, taking away from the “poetry” of the film. I disagree. The more I know about the unseen details the more I can see as I watch the film again. It is like discovering hidden treasure.
  • The Look Of Amélie – An informative interview type short that explains a lot of how the film was shot and how Jeunet’s obsessive, self proclaimed, “control freak” style influences every aspect of production. Everything from sets to costumes to the placement of the smallest detail like where an actor’s foot is placed in a close up shot. Very well made, an excellent beginning of this long list of extras. With the added bonus of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel explaining a lot of the more difficult visual challenges they faced to get the exquisite look of the film. It is obvious from the footage you see of Belbonnel and Jeunet working together that is is a collaborative effort. There is an explanation of how the film is digitally re-mastered in post production to add and design the color and lighting to be exactly what Jeunet envisioned. Since the visual style is a living breathing character in this film all on its own, it’s good to know the inspiration and techniques behind the overall atmosphere of Amélie’s world.
  • Fantasies of Audrey Tautou – The title is a bit misleading. Audrey Tautou plays Amélie is an ultra charming French actress who obviously makes few mistakes now and then. This is just a collection of “bloopers” and how her real, infinitely playful and welcoming personality shines through in the final cut of the film.
  • Q & A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – As pretentious as I find film students, this is good incite into Jeunet’s own personality. He is funny and brings a certain refreshing honesty to this Q & A session. Because his English is a bit rusty, he has occasion to misunderstand a question or have to struggle with how to phrase an answer. But in true French style, you get the feeling that he’s not really bothered if we understand him fully or not. He has an approachable demeanor and is passionate about his filmmaking, that is where the real value of this extra gets the high marks.
  • Q & A with Director and Cast – Of less interest to me, but if you are a cast enthusiast you will appreciate this brief Q & A with Jeunet and three of the cast members, including Audrey Tautou. Though the cast members do not do much of the talking, it’s yet another informative look into the behind-the-scenes goings on during filming. As with most of the extras Jeunet is the center of attention. He is an enthusiastic director/writer who loves to recount his motivations, techniques and in general, his love of his work.
  • Auditions – A few short out takes from a few of the cast members’ audition tapes. Among them is Audrey Tautou, who you can tell immediately is going to charm the directing pants off of anyone making a movie about an eccentric young woman. In a later discussion, Jeunet says she is the first actress he auditioned after his originally choosen performer could not do the film. As he states often in these extras, destiny played a part in getting Amélie made, including the casting of Tautou. In her audition tape, you can see why he would not have to search any farther for his Amélie.
  • Storyboard Comparisons – A promising extra, with great potential, but unfortunately it falls a little short in the quantity department. They take one of Jeunet’s storyboarded scenes and show the images along with the final filmed version. While I LOVE to see the art behind any film, they have only included the one scene. I guess I’m greedy. I would love to see the whole movie in comparison to how the director envisioned it originally with his own sketches and excellent storyboard drawings. One thing you come away from this DVD understanding is that Jeunet is a true control freak, as I stated earlier. His attention to detail is reflected in his compulsive pre-filming and story boarding of every single shot of the film. As important as that is to his process of filmmaking I would have loved to see more than one scene in the Storyboard Comparison feature.
  • An Intimate Chat with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – A simple one shot of Jeunet in a chair discussing the process of how Amélie came to be. A wonderful look into a more intimate aspect of a film’s life. A director’s memories, reflections and overall experience of making a film is an amazing extra for those of us who see a movie as more than a finished product, but as a work of art that encompasses so much more than the couple of hours you spend watching it. I love this extra and I hope other directors/writers/producers take note of Jeunet’s effort to share his stories and thoughts with the audience.
  • “Home Movies” Inside The Making Of Amélie – A few short hand held video sequences of the cast and crew behind-the-scenes. Not so much informative, but entertaining to see the bare bones of making a film.
  • TV Spots: English & French – Not a lot to say about TV spots. The interesting thing about this extra is to see the differences between the American and French spots. There is an obviously different approach in each. I actually preferred the French spots as they were more intriguing. I’m afraid we Americans are more about flash and less about style. I’m glad they tossed these in along with the official Trailers. It’s one more part of an international film’s journey that we rarely get to see.
  • Theatrical Trailer: U.S. & French – Basically the same as the TV Spots. A few trailers that you might not have had the chance to see, in French and English.
  • Cast and Crew Filmographies – Lists of what the key players in the film have done up to this point in their careers.
  • The Amélie Scrapbook – A lot of images, stills and proposed posters. You also get a chance to see a glimpse of the storyboard. I would have loved to have seen
  • Original Language Track (Parisian French) – Fantastic! To hear the proper language track as opposed to an English dubbed version is a blessing. There are a lot of things that happen in the production of a film that can bug me, but dubbing in another language is the top of list. Amélie is a French, Parisian film. It should be seen and heard as just that. I don’t speak French, but reading the sub titles is only a slight distraction. Hearing English come out of French speaking mouths would completely ruin the feel of the film.

The Movie:
Stunning is a word that comes to my mind when I think about Amélie. All of the chatter about it, the Academy Award nominations, the reviews, everything pointed to greatness… so finally I have seen it for myself and all I can say is, I am in love with this film and its director! (sorry husband)

Jeunet captures an innocence and vitality in this world of Amélie Poulain where every moment is a work of art. Beyond the amazing writing and the brilliantly developed characters lie the beauty of seeing a film that dances on the screen like a living painting.

Amélie is a young woman who has been isolated by circumstance all her life. Her view of the world is fantastical and optimistic. She imagines her life in an idyllic, almost childlike way. Movies and television open the world to her in contrast to how the people around her are tangled in their own small lives, deprived of all the wonder Amélie sees beyond the streets of her city. Her struggles in life as an adult are few. She is not in constant drama like those around her. She is not a sad misfit. She is a character with whom you can identify with completely. She is seeing the world through the eyes of a wondering. She loves the colors and textures of life and the excitement and intrigue of human interaction. Even the smallest things give her pleasure like picking up a pebble, rubbing it and putting it in her pocket. She savors the smallest details that seem to slip past everyone else.

Her only challenge is being alone. She longs for a companion. You never feel she “needs a man”, she simply has a place in her heart for someone who understands her and is on that same amazing plain of existence as her. A place where life is succulent and all things are possible.

She finds a young man for whom she has a great curiosity, Nino. He collects torn bits of photos that people toss away around photo machines in public places. This is sign that this is the one she is destined to be with. He has the same affection for the mysteries of people and life as she does. A particularly playful and satisfying part of her story is the game of tag she plays with Nino before she even meets him. Their meeting must be as colorful and full of mystery as her view of life. Even though she is brimming with confidence and self assuredness, ultimately she is afraid of what might happen when she meets Nino. Will she be rejected, will it live up to her expectations? Sometimes real REAL life does not match her fantasy of things are. She is reluctant to simply walk up and introduce herself, so she invents a “game” of sorts to distance herself while letting him know exactly what he might be getting into when he meets the woman who is gently taunting him.

Among the other characters who surround Amélie is her father, a lonely, isolated man obsessed with his botanic tribute to his late wife and being alone, afraid to live the dreams he once had. She tries to open his world along the way. The people at the cafe where she works are interesting and in need of Amélie’s special touch. Her neighbors and the people she encounters everyday are subject to her new quest to change the world. She sees sadness, pain and emotional suffering that she takes it upon herself to rid their lives of, in her own special ways. But, all things do not always work out the way Amélie imagines they will, that adds to the compassion you feel for her in her quest for Nino. When disappointment comes around, it’s not a failure, it’s confirmation that living her own life, in her own way is the only path to happiness.

I highly HIGHLY recommend this film. I have been a movie lover all my life and sometimes I am in a lull with enthusiasm. There are periods when I see a lot of movies that keep me simply sustained in my flick addiction.. AND THEN, along comes something like Amélie and I am rejuvenated! Movies are art, and this one is the perfect example. Stylistic, a feast for the eyes, this is a definite DVD purchase in the Hayes home!

I am always looking for bargain DVD’s that are not bargain quality, if you know what I mean. This DVD box is lovely and I give credit where credit is due, the quality of the packaging is top notch. The extras are a solid bonus and the movie, of course, is a masterpiece, SO when you can get all that for at or less than 20 bucks, that is added value in my book. It could well have been an expensive release for the going collector’s rate of around $30, but they have kept it well in range of any DVD fan’s budget.

Over All:
I hate to disappoint all of you critics out there by offering up two 10 rated DVD’s in a row, but I can’t help myself. I tried and tried to find faults with the Amélie DVD and I simply couldn’t find anything to subtract points for. The extras are excellent, the packaging is top notch, the movie is superb, etc. The worse thing I can say, and  believe me it ain’t that bad, is that the Making Of feature would be even better if it was longer and included more of the technical aspects of the special effects and post production enhancements. Other than that, I find nothing to take away from the perfect score.

A fantastic addition to a DVD collection.

Overall Score 10/10