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Amélie (2001)
It's my favorite movie of all time...
3 December 2002
Short analysis on Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain

For 20 years Jean-Pierre Jeunet collected small astonishing and intriguing moments in his life, taking notes in his diary, not knowing that he was up to co-write and direct one of the most successful film in French film history. Jean-Pierre Jeunet fell in love with the story and the film he titled Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. But it's popularity was even a surprise to Jean-Pierre Jeunet himself as he once stated: `I guess I have to produce a film like Alien Resurrection (USA 1997) to make a movie like Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain', obviously not aware of the films potential. Unfortunately the film didn't win an Academy Award for the best foreign film in 2001 which still puzzles film fans all over the world.

I consider Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film as a masterpiece. In my opinion, it is an outstanding film in film history for its cinematography, the music, the story, but above all the overall atmosphere. Going to the cinema is like meditating. We sit for over one-hour and comfortable chair - our breath slows down and as the lights are switched off, we enter a dream world. We seek to escape our normal world just for a short period of time, to experience something totally different and yet, we want to find ourselves in this world. Thanks to Jean-Pierre Jeunet I had a wonderful dream, I will never forget.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his camera man, Bruno Delbonnel, wanted to make the film look like the Spanish painter did his artwork. To establish a dreamlike atmosphere they used mostly red and green, sometimes adding a little blue spot in the picture to set the contrast. Audrey Tautou (Amélie Poulain), mostly wears either red or green dresses, as well as the housekeeper (Yolande Moreau as Madelaine Wallace, concierge), and Amélie's mother (Lorella Cravotta as Amandine Poulin) in the beginning of the film. When Amélie Poulain sits down to watch the tragedy of her life on her TV, there is an outstanding of a blue lamp in the background. Sometimes the use of color gets very obvious. Amélie's apartment for example is almost completely red, the underground station and the train station are kept in green and the green grocery store stands out from the grey buildings. Honestly, I haven't noticed the extreme use of color the first time I watched the movie. I just wondered how Jeunet succeeded in establishing such a fabulous atmosphere.

The atmosphere is also supported by the magnificent music by Yann Tiersen who has composed 19 songs in 15 days for this movie. The principal motive appears in many variations somehow being joyful, yet at the same time sad - slow and sometimes fast and activating. The music supports every moment in the film and becomes the sound of a fabulous world.

Camera movement certainly contributes its part to the atmosphere. Balanced and unbalanced pictures contribute to the message of each shot. Right in the beginning when Amélie's mother is introduced, the picture is balanced symbolizing her pursuit for correctness and cleanliness. The same can be about the first shots of Amélie's father. When talking about his dislikes, the shots are unbalanced. But more impressing are some camera movements. For example there is an astonishing high angle shot of Amélie flipping stones on le canal in Paris. The camera shows her leaning on a fence, flying above her head then craning to a low angle shot to show her flipping stones in the direction of the camera. Another one worth mentioning might be the chase of the repairs person. Nino is shown falling up the steps chasing the repairs person for the photo machines. The camera turns to show the man getting in the car driving off. Still in a low angle Nino starts his moped, trying to follow the worker, almost hitting a car. Amélie is entering the picture running after Nino. The camera follows her, then turning almost 180° around her to show her hold Nino's red bag that he lost. When Amélie sits in front of the station, we see her in a long shot, the camera dollies in to fly over her head to an over-the-shoulder shot. Some of these camera movements are really awesome, not only from a technical point of view, but moreover from an aesthetic standpoint. They support the dreamlike atmosphere, adding interesting aspects to ordinary actions.

Audrey Tautou at the age of 23 is an astonishing actress. I really can't imagine anybody doing the job better than she did. To me she is not only giving life to the character, she lives it. It's wonderful to watch her. There was no moment when I had the faintest impression that there is something wrong or inappropriate in her acting. Also Mathieu Kassovitz as Nino Quincampoix is extraordinarily gifted with his talent. Most of the actors have done a wonderful job, although I want to mention the scene when Amélie's mother gets her nervous breakdown because of the suicidal fish. This scene appeared to me exaggerated which it probably was intended to be. Anyhow, the extreme close-up of Yolande Moreau was to intriguing to me, so I shrug back in disgust rather than laughing about it. I gues this was the director's choice, so I don't hold her responsible for that.

Another negative and distracting thing where some scenes when Jean-Pierre Jeunet decided to show the key in Amélie's pocket after copying it and bringing the original key back to the grocer's door in a very unrealistic way. He uses a digital effet showing the key's silhouette in a yellow light. This is a technique that hasn't been used very often in the film, except for showing Amélie's heart going faster and the old, blind man feeling very happy after being guided by Amélie. All these scenes disturb the otherwise wonderful cinematography. There could have been other ways to communicate the actions. A simple smile on the old's man face, a close-up of Amélie's hand letting the copied key slide into her pocket and the heart beat as a background sound would have done the same without disturbing the atmosphere.

Anyway, Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain is still my favorite movie. The narration is perfectly arranged taking its time to tell every detail. I enjoyed the subplots a lot that are told in a subtle way. Maybe the introduction is a bit to long, but still I enjoyed every second. Maybe I am too used to typical Hollywood productions, where you can tell the stages of a story by watching the clock. Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain has its own rhythm driving the story forward not by a superhero trying to achieve his goal, but by a hero that knows that she has time to arrange everything by strategic means. Maybe that is also one reason why I like this film so much. The story is told with time and not against time. There is no last minute-rescue, no time pressure, no need to act. It just takes its time as life does.

In my opinion, Jean-Pierre Jeunet created a masterpiece. A film that is not only outstanding because of the cinematography, the special effects or any other technical characteristics, but also combines the perfection of craftsmanship with a wonderful story, humour, and emotion.
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Highly enjoyable, but soon forgotten
3 December 2002
Directing Minority Report Stephen Spielberg has surely done a very neat job although this film won't be counted among the best films of the decade for its lack in deepness and its faults in the story. Minority Report is highly enjoyable film. It is a rush with the right pace featured by impressive pictures due to sophisticated special effects and talented acting. But it leaves you off with the thought that, given this topic, somebody could have worked out a much more powerful story.

Tom Cruise does a wonderful job in giving live to the character of Detective John Anderton. He's never overdoing his role trying to add depth and emotion at any scene where it is not justified. He rarely shows a lot of mimic except for a little smile when he speaks to the projection of his son projected by a futuristic beamer. Mostly he's just doing - not acting. Due to the story Tom Cruise doesn't have to show an inner struggle in his character. There's no scene that gives a lot of insight. This is pretty much typical for the films Tom Cruise does.

Samatha Morton in the role of Agatha has a much more complicated task to fulfil. An absent minded girl that can see murders in the future is a lot harder to get on the screen than a determined hero only facing the threats from the outside. But she succeeds even better than Tom Cruise. All in all the acting has been wonderful.

Thanks to Spielberg the actors have been set in the right place and the right light which adds a lot of power to their scenes. Spielberg has also done a very good job showing the dream like predictions of Agatha as some short blurred and distorted film scenes. It's wonderful to watch the actors trying to complete the puzzle given only a short amount of time.

As I haven't had insight to the screenplay I can only guess which sections are probably made up by Scott Frank and the author of the short story Phillip K. Dick. The most brilliant scene, in my opinion, is right at the beginning when Tom Cruise directs the concert of dreamlike visions coming from the Agatha and the twins. The screenwriter might have used an ordinary Pc Screen and a mouse or just a big LCD Screen. But he decided to have big transparent, futuristic screen. Thus not only giving us a sense in which time the story is set and leaving the receiver somehow puzzled, but also showing Detective Anderton as director of destiny. He has total control over the pictures and vision on any murder that has not yet been commited. The way the input device for the screen is designed forces him to do very visual gestures that otherwise would have seemed exaggerated, although the fit in.

Another sequence worth mentioning is the replacement of his eyes. At that point Stephen Spielberg had the chance to present the opposite, the negative vision of the future. The doctor is a criminal and his nurse is no better. But in this scene Spielberg fails to set the miserable mood that would have been appropriate for that scene. The scenes where Detective Anderton drinks radioactive water, eats a rotten sandwich and almost swallows outdated milk seems more like slapstick. These actions are presented so fast that they turn the disgust experienced by the viewer in the scene before (when the eyes are prepared to be removed) in a relief in laughter. If intended that way the film fails here miserably to create any vision of the future. There's no mood or atmosphere to be experienced like you could do in Blade Runner. It's just another sacrifice to the rush.

Instead of talking about every single special effect and kind of choices in framing and presentation of scene I want to point out the overall pace of the story. Right from the beginning the receiver is set in a rollercoaster. Sound effects and visual effects, the lack of time for action is driving the story forward all the time.

There are hardly any scenes to develop traits in characters. The only thing we learn about the protagonist is that he is suffering from the lost of his son. Furthermore we are informed about the relationship to his ex-wife and the reason why she left him - but that's not a real character trait. So the loss of his son and family is pretty much it. Not a lot. Other characters are only used in their typical function. The protagonist's ex-wife has nothing more to do than to state that she loves her ex-husband and that she only separated from him because he reminds her of her late son. Director Lamar Burgess only serves the function as a mentor until he is used as a new antagonist. Danny Witwer, the primarily antagonist, has not much to do or to say. As there is no colorful protagonist, the antagonist can't give him much contrast. But you might also say it the other way round.

Basically the film finds his appeal in its pace and rhythmic timing. I believe that is why the story gets weak when present catches up with the prediction. From that point the story is dull. The overall purpose of the rush is fulfilled. The pre-crime system is proved wrong. Freedom of choice has prevailed. Somehow the rest of the story is like the clearing work after a party. The system must be destroyed and somebody must die at the final climax and Anderton has to reunite with is ex-wife to have the western family model again. At the end the film loses his beauty of rush and turns out to be a predictable standard North American film with flat characters. Even the special effects can't save the film from going down now.

When the story turns, it is the first time the receiver has the time to think. He may has not yet noticed that he followed the standard narrative pattern with Hollywood accuracy. But then he is left alone without any overwhelming pictures and without speed. He's left without any intellectual thought about the topic of pre-crime justice. There is so much provocative in this topic, even spoiling up some basic beliefs in the American Constitution. There is so much controversy in it. None of those opportunities has been explored by the film. The topic rather has been misused to market a weak story in a high-quality Hollywood production.
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