By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated July 26, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT


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The fanciful delights of Amélie are set in a timeless Paris so romantic, you may want to drop everything and fly to Charles de Gaulle Airport. But once there, you’d only wear out your walking shoes looking for the mythic City of Light invented by writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The lighthearted Paris of this sensualist (forget about ”Alien Resurrection,” think of his 1991 comedy ”Delicatessen”) is a kind of Gallic Brigadoon, a place filled with beautiful coincidences and unselfconscious oddballs who are meant for one another but don’t yet know it. On a movie map, this capital city is located just inches from the Manhattan of Serendipity.

In Jeunet’s gorgeous universe, a gamine beauty like Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou, about to launch a thousand fashion and beauty stories) thrives in eccentric bloom, choreographing good luck for people around her — a waitress, a painter, her papa. Amélie finds her life’s calling when she unearths an old box of childhood toys beneath the floorboards of her apartment, returns it anonymously, and watches how life changes for the recipient. Soon she’s meddling like a French Jane Austen heroine; soon, too, she meets a man (actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz) who only she doesn’t know she’s meant to love. The realization is slow, very slow, in coming, but the wait is as pleasant as dawdling over an espresso in a cozy brasserie. While Amélie the plucky girl beguiles, ”Amélie” the charming movie, already an international success, seduces.

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