After taking France by storm, Amelie takes on the States
Audrey Tautou

”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’Amélie Poulain” (”The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie 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 ”Amélie” (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 ”Amélie” 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 ”Amélie” from the 2001 competition.

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