The season of short box-office lines is almost over. On Friday, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone opens, and some are predicting it will break Titanic's box-office record. To avoid the round-the-block, round-the-clock lines, you might want to sneak out to your neighborhood arthouse theater, where a couple of new releases are gaining a good deal of applause. One of them even claims it might "change your life."

In fact, Ameliejust might follow Life is Beautiful and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be this year's foreign-film success story. The French film, directed by the visually inventive Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) could garner a Best Actress nomination for Audrey Tautou; her performance in the lead role swings between outrageous and subtle, shy and hyperactive, hushed and hilarious.

"She'll change your life," boasts the movie poster. Amelie tells the story of an introverted, creative, impulsive young girl who discovers the joy of performing anonymous good deeds for lonely, despondent, troubled souls. (If this sounds like the premise to Pay It Forward or other emotionally manipulative tearjerkers, trust me—this is something entirely different. Amelie has more in common with fantasies, fairy tales, and fables.)

Magic seems to follow Amelie as though it's part of daily life. When Amelie's heart breaks, she literally melts into a splash and a puddle of colors. When she's asleep, the paintings of barnyard animals on her bedroom walls talk to each other. And when she falls suddenly and drastically in love, her palpitating heart shines visibly right through her jacket.

Mike Hertenstein (Cornerstone) raves, "Jeunet grabs viewers by the arm and reels off a wondrous catalog of simple pleasures: ...

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