Flitting nimbly over the obstacles of language, distance, and culture, Audrey Tautou, the 23-year-old star of French treat Amelie, peppers her answers to a reporter’s questions with irrepressible bursts of ”Oh la la” and the occasional ”Voila!” But much like her apple-cheeked, doe-eyed alter ego, she could have charmed the culottes off us without saying a word.

As the titular goody-deux-shoes cafe waitress who effects happy coincidences for her Montmartre neighbors, Tautou impishly grins her way through a part as tailor-made for her as that choppy bob. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being Amelie, but — quelle surprise! — director Jean-Pierre Jeunet originally penned the script with Breaking the Waves’ Emily Watson in mind.

”I found Audrey quite by chance,” says Jeunet. ”I saw a poster for Venus Beaute (Institut) [the 1999 film for which Tautou won a Cesar], and I was taken by her prominent ears and wide-open eyes. I contacted her, and after about five seconds I was convinced. She has this incredible presence. In fact, I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy to find her.”

With Amelie now one of the most successful French-language films ever — and off to a good start in the U.S., having earned $7.7 million since its release last month — there’s a clamor for Tautou to share her own likes and dislikes (as each character does throughout Amelie). The gamine is game: ”I like the light that passes through shutters. I like the sound that feet make when you step in fresh snow,” she muses. ”I don’t like seeing people bite into ice cubes. I don’t like magnetic key cards in hotels.”

Though she best get used to those pesky plastic passes. After more than six months promoting Amelie, Tautou is currently in London shooting Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, playing a chambermaid embroiled in a human organ-trafficking scam. (”I try to speak English,” she giggles. ”With a Turkish accent.”) For now, we’re content to bask in a Gallic performance so lovely it should, like the film’s most precious objects, be preserved in amber…or maybe gold, though Tautou won’t hear of Oscar talk. ”I’m more into living in the present,” she says. ”I like surprises.” Voila, Audrey.