Amélie (FR: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain) is a French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet that has developed a strong following worldwide since its release (#43 on IMDb Top 250).
Amélie Poulain’s (Audrey Tautou) childhood was spent isolated from other children and even her parents which lead her to develop an unusually imaginative and acute mind. As a young woman, she is now a golden-hearted Parisian waitress dedicating her life to the simple pleasures of life such as dipping her hands into sacks of grain or daydreaming all day long. Her adventure starts when she learns of Princess Diana’s death in the summer of 1997 which causes her to find an old metal box of childhood memorabilia behind a loose tile. She sets up to find the person to whom it belongs, vowing to herself that if she finds him and makes him happy, she will devote her life to improve lives of people around her. Guess what? She finds him and we have a movie! Using her endless imagination, she devises the most intricate and hilarious stratagems to help people around her without their knowledge.
Among numerous quests, she sets out to arrange romantic matches for her coworkers, brings out videos of the outside world for a sickly man confined to his house, and kidnaps her father’s beloved garden gnome to encourage him to travel around the world. One day, she realizes that she can do the same thing for her own happiness. There is strong elements of fate and inevitability in the movie. The way Amélie’s mother dies (a suicidal woman jump off the roof of a church and lands on her lol) should clue you in right at the beginning but Jeunet also wants the viewer to realize that happiness comes from enjoying all the little things in life that most people consider as inconsequential. Kindness, compassion, imagination, playfulness, things that Amélie embodies from head to toe.
The exquisite Audrey Tautou is essentially on every frame and deservedly so. She infuses her character with an innocence, witty intelligence and mischievous charm that is completely irresistible. Her highly expressive big brown eyes and her delightful smile make Amélie so easy to like (or adore) and Tautou gives the performance of a lifetime. She uses those eyes to look into the camera and give the viewer the feeling of being an accomplice of her misdeeds. The supporting cast is excellent with Rufus the highlight as Amélie’s father. He is stunned to receive picture of his garden gnome traveling around the world (sent by Amélie of course) and sets out to travel in pursuit of the gnome. Mathieu Kassovitz is excellent as Nino, Amélie’s equally quirky love interest who collects discarded photo booth pictures.
Let’s face it, the plot of the movie isn’t anything all that special and could have been part of any run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. The truly unique aspect of this movie is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s unique vision of a witty and deliriously imaginative film. He stylishly creates a joyous fantasy on every level from the larger-than-life characters to the masterful photography. The relentless opening sequence of the movie is simply pure genius and helps tremendously in immersing the viewer in the fantasy world of the film. The city of Paris, where the movie takes place, has a dreamy touch of fantasy and romanticism giving it a surreal feeling of a romantic Wonderland, full of quirky and colorful characters as well as talking animals. These oddly interesting characters never feel like archetypal caricatures. Clocking in slightly over two hours, the movie could have benefited from losing 15 to 20 minutes of run time as it tends to sag down about two third of the way in but in all, this movie is very hard to resist.
An utterly delicious and playful movie full of joie de vivre and optimism, Amélie is a celebration of life and kindness.
Notes: Rated R for sexual content. 122 minutes. Seen in French, subtitled English.