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Cast:Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus

Four years after his Alien: Resurrection met with a cool reaction from U.S. audiences, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's return to French-language filmmaking is an eye-popping potpourri of magic realism. Pouty ing‚nue Audrey Tautou (Happenstance) is the titular heroine, a daydreaming anti-socialite who takes it upon herself to anonymously help others find happiness, whether through simple matchmaking in a caf‚ or having a garden gnome travel vicariously for her aging father (Rufus). The trouble is that no matter how hard she tries, Am‚lie can't seem to make herself happy, let alone open up to her secret crush, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a hobbyist who reconstructs discarded photo-booth pictures. A modern fairy tale bordering on a live-action cartoon, Jeunet's Oscar-nominated feel-good film is a visual banquet of gags, swooshes, and comic-book design. He eschews the dirty, monochromatic alleys of New Wave Paris for a candy-colored vision of prewar wonder, populated with lonesome eccentrics and forever awash in accordion music. Screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, who also contributed to the fancifully dark City of Lost Children, collaborates with Jeunet on a story that is at once emotionally gratifying and hilariously surreal; inanimate objects come to life, and a reclusive artist repaints the same Renoir every year. Despite all the magical set designs and storytelling, though, the movie is tout Tautou. With saucerlike eyes that could make Betty Boop jealous, her Am‚lie infuses every scene with both painful shyness and romantic keening. At one point, the movie proclaims the world a harsh place for dreamers. But it also proves a bouncy treat with the potential to change all that. Tony Nigro

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