Amelie: Or how by writing a review on the three different versions I bought, I can write it off on my taxes.
That Amelie is vacuous, blindly optimistic, without meaning, nor about anything in particular did not stop it from being the second best movie screened in the US in 2001 (the best was far and away Battle Royale, which still has no distribution). Stuffed with so many bizarre and wonderful ideas as to shame Being John Malkovich, is an overtly happy riff on Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire. Director Jean Pierre Jeunet, who, along with his partner Marc Caro, made the amazing The City of Lost Children (easily the finest visual movie of the 1990’s), the darkly hilarious cannibal comedy Delicatessen, and by himself, the awful Alien: Resurrection, ties together a barrage of urban legends, a depressed fish tries to kill itself by jumping out of its bowl, and fantastical anecdotes, a garden gnome that travels the world, to do nothing more than make you smile for 2 hours, with which he thoroughly succeeds.
Audrey Tautou plays Amelie, a waitress in Montmarte, France, who tries to find meaning in her life by changing other people’s, from the outside. She starts with strangers, and then moves on to people she knows, co-workers, patrons in the restaurant, and of course, eventually, herself. The movie is extremely charming and inventive (despite and because of having the most slender of plots), it manages to be unpredictable even on a second viewing, as objects and people come to life in ways you hadn’t quite considered.
What Jeunet really excels at however, is two things. The first is casting, with whom he rivals Quentin Tarantino, each movie that Jeunet makes is like a cavalcade of bizarre and wonderful faces thrown at the viewer. The second and equally important is his visual panache, the way he uses special effects in both subtle and obvious ways. Using deliberately deep colors throughout, Jeunet obviously took pains to make his misc-en scene distinctive by utilizing CGI to push the colors even further. His less subtle uses are more egregious and yet part of the main charm of the film, photographs that come to life, animated dinosaurs that a young Amelie plays doctor on, etc. But in reality, Jeunet does almost everything right in Amelie, it lost the Best Foreign Film Oscar because it’s a light and fluffy film, as opposed to the seriousness usually necessitated to go home with the gold. This was true of the winner, the interesting, but preachy and self-important No Man’s Land, as if the charm of Amelie was somehow a negative.
I looked at three different versions of Amelie for this review, the traditional 2 disc American version, released by Miramax, the box-set Canadian version, released by TVA International (a subsidiary of Sony), and the Region 3 single disc Hong Kong version, from Edko Films. The American and Canadian versions are similar, both feature beautiful 2.35 anamorphic transfers, but the colors are a bit stronger and crisper on the Canadian version. The American disc is accurate, but the Canadian disc captures more of the subtleties that Jeunet was going for. The Hong Kong disc is non-anamorphic and suffers because of it. There is an abundance of color bleeding that is distracting, and fleshtones tend to be slightly off, especially inside the restaurant.
The discrepancies between the 3 discs here are odd, the American version is the least of the three because it is the only one without a DTS track, although I only listened to the 5.1 track on each one (my receiver is not DTS ready). The surrounds are pretty active for a souffle type of movie. While the 5.1 soundtrack on the Canadian and American are virtually identical, I found the Hong Kong 5.1 to be more show-offy, with more ambient noise than was probably intended. This is typical of the Hong Kong discs that I’ve listened to, they want to make sure you notice you’ve got surround sound. The subtitles are best on the American version, and this is mostly because there are no English subtitles on the Canadian version.
Here is where the three versions part ways in terms of quality and quantity, and most of all, presentation. The menu on the Canadian is version simply amazing and makes the American disc seem lazy and uninspired, the Hong Kong disc is very plain and is not even worth its own separate sentence. The Hong Kong disc has the Chinese trailer, filmographies, a photo gallery, and ten questions and answers about the film. The American and Canadian discs have a wealth of material, but sadly, I have to repeat, there are no English subtitles on the Canadian disc. Still, the set includes the wonderful score by composer Yann Tiersen, a photo album that can hold up to 96 photos, a glossy poster signed by Jeunet, a 24 page booklet, a skipping stone, a envelope containing 8 postcards of Amelie’s ceramic companion, 8 color photos from the film, 4 black and white snapshots of the cast, a wonderful box design, and I could go on. A lot of the material on the disc itself is similar to the American version, but it is the way that all of it is presented, the cast and crew listing include a way to cut to the credits where their name appears, the photo gallery has a zoom-in option, that make the difference. The American version does contain a commentary in English by Jeunet, but mostly he talks about how each scene is his favorite (he must utter that line about 15 or 20 times).
Amelie is a great film, whichever disc you choose to get, but it is a tear inducing fact that clearly the best version, the Canadian one, is without any English subtitles. Buy American if you must.
Video: Miramax: A- TVA: A Edko: C+
Audio: Miramax: B+ TVA: A Edko: A-
Extras: Miramax: B+ TVA: A Edko: C-
Overall: Miramax: A- TVA: A Edko: B-