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The French connection in Amelie and Wolf

Last week, Amelie passed La Cage aux Folles as the all-time top grossing film from France to come to America. Last week also marked the wide domestic release of another French film, Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups). Before Life Is Beautiful hit America in 1998, becoming the all-time grossing foreign-language film and winning a few Oscars, the idea of going to see a foreign film was, well, foreign.

Last year at Oscar time, Gladiator saw major competition from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, an import spoken in Mandarin Chinese. Crouching Tiger went on to surpass Beautiful by grossing more than $100 million and won the Oscar for Best Director (Ang Lee).

Two of the most enjoyable films currently in theaters have French subtitles, and it shouldn’t be considered a chore to go see both of them.

Maybe foreign films are finally coming around to American standards. Perhaps mainstream America is becoming more accepting of French people. Whatever the case is, foreign-language films are increasingly becoming more popular and are no longer exclusively reserved for the art-house crowd.

The funny thing about Amelie and Brotherhood of the Wolf is that while both films hail from the same country in the same year, they couldn’t be more different. And despite their opposing genres – romantic comedy and action fantasy – both films succeed on their own terms.

Amelie is a delightful tale about a woman trying to find herself by helping other people achieve happiness. Finding herself bored with the breaking news of Princess Diana’s death in her home city of Paris, Amelie turns off the TV and investigates a crack in the baseboard of her kitchen. What she finds, as told by the narrator (we read the translation), will “change her life.”

She discovers a little boy’s box of treasures hidden there some 50 years before. After her journey to find the owner and her pleasure of witnessing him smile, she decides to become a good Samaritan, albeit an odd one.

The film follows her attempts to bring happiness to those around her, as well as her dilemma of not being able to find happiness for herself when it comes to love.

Audrey Tautou plays the whimsical title character, who takes us on her journey and makes us smile along with the people whose lives she enhances. Our joy comes when we root for her to succeed in all her endeavors, especially the romantic pursuit that makes up most of the action for the second half of the film.

The Academy Award for Best Picture always reserves a fifth slot for films that are either foreign, art house or cute adaptations of novels made by Miramax Studios (i.e. The Cider House Rules and Chocolat). Amelie has just the right amount of the sweetness factor to get noticed at the end of this sour year.While Amelie uses light comedy as its content and a beautiful Paris as its backdrop, Brotherhood of the Wolf deals with a man-eating beast and a grizzly, wintry French countryside.

A woman runs through a mountainous terrain, falls and cuts herself. She gets up only to see her life flash in front of her eyes before a beast mauls her and continually slams her body against the side of a boulder. This is the absurd opening sequence to a film about the hunt for a “mystical” creature that threatens both the aristocracy and the lower class of 18th century France.

We follow the trail of a naturalist and a savage, two men who know their martial arts as well as Jackie Chan or Jet Li, as they plot to find and destroy this beast.

What makes the film work is its dedication to utilizing every genre in modern film. Brotherhood is everything from kung fu to silly camp packed into a period piece and told as folklore. Even when the film uses visual effects to transition one scene to the next, it can’t do it without splicing erotic art into the mix.

Brotherhood of the Wolf is gory, gruesome and not for the faint-hearted. If anything, it is the polar opposite of Amelie.

If the recent rise in foreign films transcending the American mainstream is a sign of things to come, then the imported failures will probably still be better than most domestic films that we consider good.

  • Contact William Albritton at