In France the film is called "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin," which prepares the audience to accept its fable-like qualities, of story, construction, and even its color-enhanced photography. From the opening moments, a whirlwind tour of Amélie's life from conception to adulthood - the child, as the film tells us, of a neurotic and an iceberg - director and writer (with Guillaume Laurent) Jean-Pierre Jeunet carries us along with a voiceover narration that somehow manages to coat a terrible childhood with wit and irony so that when Amélie emerges into the film as a waitress in a Montmartre café we have given ourselves up to the fantasy of the movie, in which Amélie is nothing but a joyous force for life.
One day she finds a little box of toys behind the wall of her apartment - a box hidden forty years before by a boy who once lived there. She takes it upon herself to find that boy - now of course a middle-aged man - and ultimately tracks him down. Naturally he is overjoyed, and Amélie begins a new avocation as a doer of good deeds. She is a matchmaker for two people at the café. She brings warmth back into the life of her concierge, who had held a curdled bitterness against the husband who had left her many years before. She restores the self-confidence of a grocer's assistant who had been bullied by his boss. She even is able to help her glacier of a father. Her acts are done with great wit and warmth, and her role is carefully hidden from the recipients.
And then she falls for a young man, Nino (Matheiu Kassovitz), who collects and keeps the torn photos discarded by customers of a photo-machine in a railroad station. Nino has two jobs: at a porn shop and at a carnival. But out of fear of love for herself, Amélie simply trails him, sets up tests for him if he wishes to find her, runs and runs away, until - finally - the two end up together.
This is where the film, after a brilliant first 90 minutes, becomes a drag as we watch and wait for the inevitable clinch, which takes another half hour. Had Jeunet ended the film with a simple hint about Amélie and Nino, we would have a great deal to cheer about. As it is, by stretching things out needlessly he almost undoes every delicious, magic moment he gave us earlier. And there are many magic moments. The film is being called this year's "Chocolat," which I think underrates it; and if distributor Miramax has anything to say about it "Amélie" will get heavy consideration at Oscar time. But that extra half hour turns perfection into the simply good; that's a maddening thing to have to say about a film.