So you're the co-director of surreal, nightmarish fairytales Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children, and your last project was as helmer-for-hire on the last (and, let's face it, dumbest) instalment of the Alien franchise. What next? Well, rather than re-team with long-time collaborator Marc Caro and delve into the dingier corners of his brain-cellar, Jean-Pierre Jeunet has quit cheese-before-bedtime snacks, tapped into childhood memories and made a feelgood love story.
But what could have become a cloying, soft-focus self-indulgence binge is in fact the French director's best and most accessible picture yet even for the subtitle-wary. And, as you'd expect from one half of the team responsible for post-apocalyptic cannibal-butchers, killer fleas and dream-stealing mad scientists, Amélie is a rom-com of an entirely different flavour to Hollywood's nutrition-free confections. Imaginary monsters, globetrotting garden gnomes, talking pig-shaped lamps and strange glass-boned old men all feature in this tale of a lonely girl with an overactive imagination and an undernourished heart.
Jeunet has constructed a contemporary Parisian fantasy, where the streets of Montmartre glow in the sun, where the waters of the canal are blue and sparkling and where every advertising billboard is an eye-massaging work of art.
Some critics have pointed out that Jeunet's Paris is also free of any signs of poverty or ethnic diversity, claiming that Amélie is a right-wing exercise in nostalgia for `simpler' times. It's an opinion so far off the mark as to be offensive. It's not as if Amélie has a transparent, right-wing agenda like, for instance, Forrest Gump. The fact that Jeunet hasn't felt the need to dabble in tokenism should be lauded. Besides, if the movie was so right-of-centre, would Mathieu Kassovitz, the Jewish director of ghetto drama La Haine, really have agreed to play the male lead?
All Jeunet is trying to do is make his audience smile soppily and glow with happiness. Audrey Tautou subtly thrums the heartstrings as the gorgeously elfin lead, while a clutch of quirky supports (a cafe owner who knows the recipe for true love, a jealous lover who records the exploits of his ex, Kassovitz's collector of discarded passport photos) satisfy the parts that, say, Notting Hill's smug gang of friends so spectacularly failed to reach. It's hard to imagine a more touching, beautiful and resonant movie - Amélie doesn't just get under your skin, it climbs right inside you and wraps itself around your heart.