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'Amélie': Still Enchanting 17 Years After Its Release

Audrey Tatou in "Amélie.""

Milwaukee's Francophiles can begin celebrating Bastille Days early this year at the Avalon Theater with a screening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 film Amélie on Wednesday, July 11th. "France has nurtured one of the world's most significant movie industries," says film critic Dave Luhrssen. "The country can lay claim to having invented motion pictures. It was the sight of the first commercial screening of a movie."

But what makes French films so distinct, aside from French locations like the often-romanticized Paris? Luhrssen says French films tend to be more intelligent and sexually frank than their American counterparts. He also notes that French filmmakers were quick to embrace irony in filmmaking. 

Nearly every genre is present in French cinema, says Luhrssen, and there are more than a few French films worth viewing before Bastille Days. However, Amélie has remained one of the most cherished French films of all time, and has managed to garner a cult following in the U.S. since its 2001 release. In fact, the whimsical film is the highest-grossing French film to ever screen in the states.

Although the movie became an instant classic, Luhrssen wasn't initially a fan of the film. He expected Amélie to be more similar to Jeunet's previous works, many of which were darker. Instead, Amélie was Jeunet's attempt to craft a more positive story, one that is "very visually overloaded," much like his other films.

"When I reviewed the movie when it was released in 2001, I gave it a scathingly negative review," Luhrssen recalls. "When the DVD came out later that year, I reluctantly watched it and I changed my mind completely."

According to Jeunet, Amélie is an emotional autobiography about moving to Paris in the 1970s. Jeunet had the same sense of awe and wonder that many people experience upon their first visit to the city of love. Luhrssen says Amélie is a collection of stories that Jeunet heard from friends and other people he met in Paris. "He assembled this kind of fascinating patchwork together about life in Paris at some undetermined time in human history," Luhrssen explains. "It really is evoking a Paris of the imagination, a Paris more beautiful and wonderful than Paris at any time could have been." 

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.