After taking France by storm, the candy-colored romance Amelie hits the States.
It will be impossible to sell this to foreign countries.”
That’s what director Jean-Pierre Jeunet remembers his initial French backers saying when he asked for $10 million to make Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain (The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain), a fable about a Parisian waitress who can’t resist shaking up the lives around her.
Not since his whimsically gross 1991 comedy Delicatessen (codirected with Marc Caro) had Jeunet endured such budgetary agita. After receiving acclaim for the 1995 fantasy The City of Lost Children, he sojourned to Hollywood solo for 1997’s Alien Resurrection. But when he returned home to make a ”more personal film,” the prospect of succeeding even in the French market with a film as sunny as Amelie (the shortened U.S. title) was worrisome. ”It was a risk to speak about generosity,” he says. ”Because we [in France] are so cynical…. Violence is much more fashionable.”
But Amelie (see review on page 83) has turned out to be Cinderella. Since April, the movie has grossed more than $39 million in France — moola-la indeed for homegrown fare. Last month in the U.K., it set box office records for a French-language opening. The numbers have been sweet vindication for Jeunet, whose first financers bailed on him, and an even sweeter rebuke to Cannes film festival president Gilles Jacob, who nixed Amelie from the 2001 competition.
Now Miramax, which pushed Life Is Beautiful to a $57 million U.S. gross (among foreign films, that’s topped only by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s $128 million), has just released Amelie in New York and L.A. and will expand it in the coming weeks. Some are buzzing that its run will extend all the way to the Oscars next spring (France has announced that Amelie will be its Foreign Language Film submission).
The movie’s strong showing has made an instant star of Audrey Tautou, the 23-year-old gamine who plays its impish heroine. She says that since celebrity worship is for the most part ”not the thing” in French culture, she was unprepared for Parisians to so embrace her that Montmartre (the neighborhood where the story takes place) has become overrun with tourists ordering ”Amelie baguettes.” Too bad Tautou doesn’t come with English subtitles, since conversing with her is tres difficile. From what the translator conveyed, it seems she’ll be starring soon in director Stephen Frears’ English-language thriller Dirty Pretty Things. Does Tautou, who’s been taking meetings in L.A., itch to work with any big American auteurs? ”I don’t think yet I should believe in Santa Claus,” she purrs.
Hollywood beckons for Jeunet as well. Instead of the sci-fi offers he got after Alien Resurrection, now the pitches are romantic comedies. ”If it’s just a comedy, I can do that in France with more freedom,” he says. ”So I’d prefer to do a big movie in United States. But not a stupid action movie…. I can only tell you it won’t be Amelie 2.”