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DEC. 31–JAN. 6, 2005

How do you explain the runaway success of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 cute-house hit Amélie? Perhaps Jeunet needed something impossibly lighthearted to shake off the nastiness of his first Hollywood filmmaking experience, Alien: Resurrection. (Winona Ryder playing an android with a bratty Valley-girl accent can do that to people.) But chances are it had way more to do with the anime-sized eyes and mischievous smirk of his pixieish star, Audrey Tautou. With a constant hand-in-the-cookie-jar expression on her face, Tautou’s annoyingly adorable Amélie glides from one Pollyanna-esque set of circumstances to the next, stopping only to cock her eyebrow and mug directly into Jeunet’s eagerly awaiting wide-angle lens. Yet the film was a monster success in France and America, and to judge from such recent fare as Yann Samuell’s Love Me If You Dare, it seems to have launched its own subgenre—the absurdly quirky French rom com. With Jeunet’s latest film, A Very Long Engagement, he’s gone back to the dark place again, throwing his beloved Tautou onto the battlefields of World War I. Can she charm her way out of the gangrenous trenches and find her lost love? Amélie opens Friday, Dec. 31, and runs through Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005 (see Showtimes for a complete schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Jason Powell)