Exhausted after making his first Hollywood film, 1997's "Alien: Resurrection," director Jean-Pierre Jeunet returned to France with the idea of making a small French movie.
The film he went on to make, "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" (released here as "Amélie)," has been anything but small. The story about a Parisian gamin who secretly does good deeds to brighten the lives of neighbors in her community is still at the top of the French box office after seven months.
"Everybody wanted to see the film a lot of times," the director explains on the phone from New York. "After a while, it became socially relevant."
Mr. Jeunet says everybody wanted to study why it was such a success, including French President Jacques Chirac. Eager to tap into the mood of the country, Mr. Chirac requested a private screening.
So why has "Amélie" enchanted so many?
"This film is a very positive story, and it is pretty rare, because when Hollywood tries to make a [positive] story, it's always too sugary because it's not sincere. They make these films to make money, and that's it."
"Amélie" was a personal movie, the product of 25 years of ideas, Jeunet says. Given the director's background of making outlandish fantasy movies like "Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children," it's not surprising that it brims with special-effects sequences to illustrate Amélie's vivid, "Ally McBeal"-like imagination.
Despite the film's success, Jeunet says the events of Sept. 11 altered his perspective.
"I thought, 'OK, 'Amélie' is nothing, it's just a film,' " he says. "When I read the newspaper now, I'm not interested in the culture pages. After a while, a lot of people told me: 'We need this kind of film right now.' If this film could help people [for] two hours, it would be great."