2001 film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amelie was originally released in France as Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain ("The Fabulous Story of Amelie Poulain" (thanks to fuzzy and blue for a wee correction here)) and cements Jeunet's reputation as one of the world's leading composers of fairy tales and cinematic magic. The film fairly exploded onto the international movie scene at Cannes, despite studio projections that it would be a comfortably well received film, it is well on its way to being an international art-house hit as well as a near-blockbuster in its native country of France. This success is well deserved: I have yet to hear anything but raves for this movie, and those raves echo my own sentiments.

The film stars Audrey Tautou as Amelie. A quick glance at IMDB shows that she is not familiar to American audiences (or French ones, for that matter), but without a doubt she will be moving on to bigger things. Amelie is an agent of fate and destiny, as periodic voiceovers make clear, though she is well in control of her actions and her deliveries of the inevitable bear a hallmark that is all hers.

Phillip K. Dick is a science fiction author well known for writing hundreds of stories exploring two questions: "What is reality?", and "What is it to be human?". Jeunet is much the same way; each of his films (save perhaps Alien: Resurrection, for obvious reasons) asks the question "What if Rube Goldberg were the principle architect of the universe?". In Amelie the question might be better put as "What if He were in charge of affairs of the heart?". The movie is about people getting what they deserve. In that respect, I suppose, it is like all romantic comedies, and a good portion of the rest of all the moves ever made. But what separates Amelie from Sleepless in Seattle is a closer faithfullness to real, observable human nature, and a commitment to showing that nature, and celebrating it, without letting the barriers of reality as we know it get in the way.

Like Douglas Adams, Jean-Pierre Jeunet is obsessed with the tangent, the sequence of events, and the blossoming of the small to the magnificent (that word being used in its broadest sense). He is also an incurable romantic. Amelie Poulain is an independant spirit, too busy revelling in the richness of the world she sees (as she looks out over the city of Paris, she wonders how many couples are having orgasms, and with satisfaction notes the answer) to recognize her own loneliness at being an observer rather than a participant in the world she loves so much (I'm not just talking about orgasms here, either). It is the news of the death of Princess Diana that sets the movie off on its first adventure, the reunion of a man (played by the gruff Maurice Bénichou) with his childhood and, indirectly, with his family. This righting of affairs proves so satisfying to Amelie that, with the information gleaned about her neighbors in her original search for the man, she sets off to deliver happiness and justice (by which I mean revenge!) to her neighbors.

As if this weren't enough, Amelie finds herself with a mystery of her own, in addition to the mysteries she creates for others. As she travels the subways of Paris, Amelie spots a man (played by Mathieu Kassovitz, who appeared in The Fifth Element and directed and appeared in La Haine) who scavenges discarded photos from subway photo booths around the city. When Amelie observes him bolt through the subway in pursuit of a stranger, she finds herself in possession of the key to his mystery and hers.

It is with some effort that I force myself to refrain from giving up any more plot details. This is a wonderful film that greatly develops the Jeunet canon. While Delicatessen was wonderful in it's mechanics and surrealism, and The City of Lost Children is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have ever seen, this film is the richest yet in story and character. The movie draws its beauty, not from elaborate Marc Caro setpieces, not from the physical beauty of Amelie or Kassovitz's Nino Quincampoix, but from a beautiful picture of the world and the people who live in it. Like Ghost World, this is a movie about its creator (though Zwigoff and Jeunet are drastically different people), and it is a better movie for that. Everyone should go see this movie.

Amelie (which rhymes with "family") is a magical confection of a film about life's small pleasures. Amelie Poulain (whose last name is french for "little foal") is a doe eyed girl who seems rather naive and asexual, and so instead of sex she finds pleasure in immersing her hand in sacks of grain, cracking the crust of crème brulée with back of teaspoon or skipping stones on the Canal Saint Martin. It's an incredibly likeable film (unless you are honestly one of those perpetual cynics, and even then I'm pretty convinced it will win you over); a simple celebration of being alive, and of enjoying fleeting life while we can, seeing your world through your own (multicoloured) prism.

The beginning of the movie is a startlingly and naively humorous introduction to the various people in Amelie's immediate world, as well as her life story (fraught with such funny bad luck!) We are told of each character's likes and dislikes, and instantly charmed, which is a surprise as one can expect such a cartoonish and irreverant opening to alienate viewers from the get-go. Amelie's father is a doctor who only touches her once a month for a medical checkup. Moved by the closeness, her heart beats a mile a minute and her father is convinced she suffers from a cardiac problem. Because of this she is confined to her home and robbed of the company of other children, causing her to become an observer rather than a participant, of life.

When she is old enough, she moves out and lives in a colourful little apartment and works as a waitress, floating through her days in a type of whimsical unreality. On the day of Lady Di's death, she finds a small rusty tin which was once a small boy's treasure chest. She plays a little game as is her nature, and decides to find the now grown-up boy who hid this tin, and depending on whether he was ecstatic or indifferent, she would spend the rest of her time being a dreamy do-gooder.

And so she falls into the life of shaping the realities of the people around her in small and vivid ways. The manic pace of the film ensures that we aren't drawn needlessly into a simpering sentimentality; it remains fresh and awe-inspiring as we are drawn instead into Amelie's beautifully busy little life.

The scene which made my heart want to burst into confetti is the one where Amelie spontaneously rushes a blind man across a busy street. She navigates him down an entire block, describing with a shatter of exclamations everything she can see along the way: lollipops in a bakery, prices of fruit at a market, and a baby watching a silly dog watching a chicken rotisserie in a shop window.

Amelie's greatest challenge is to find love for herself, which isn't easy for such a shy girl who can't even show up to take credit for her own good deeds. She is simply a young woman in love with the world but afraid of life. When she first sees Nino, (Mathieu Kassovitz), an X-ray view shows Amelie's heart all aflutter before she catches her breath and scuttles away, nervous and bashful. She follows Nino (which means "little boy") noncomittedly for a while, and learns that he is a part time cashier at Palace Video, King of Porno, that he collects photo booth strips and concrete footprints, and that on Wednesdays he works as a fairground ghost who howls in the ears of the Phantom Train passengers. Because she is so used to being an outsider, and fixing up everybody else's life rather than paying any attention to her own, her strategies for meeting Nino are as zigzaggy and treasure hunt-like as the means she uses to take revenge on a grumpy fruitstore clerk, or to matchmake a frumpy hypochondriac and a jealous ex-boyfriend stalker.

This 122 minute long arthouse film is like a little toy story by the French director Jeunet, who usually directs films of such dark, bizarre underworlds as "Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children". He digitally cleaned up Montmartre's look, by taking out garbage and graffiti, changing the posters and even changing the shapes of clouds. Although there has been the odd scathing remark about how Jeunet has managed to turn Paris into an American unreality, it adds to the fairytale fun and the sense that one must take delight in the tiny things in life, the peripheral details. He creates his scenes with a flourish, his camera darting hither and thither creating a sort of cartoonish sense of cinematography, which is both fantastical and utterly realistic. In one scene, after she lets Nino walk out of the cafe, she literally melts, thanks to some gorgeous computer generated effects. He absolutely envelops his audience in atmosphere, and could easily be mistaken for a director who was like some dizzy child who needed everyday to be a birthday party, except that we know better by his list of other films. He is giddy and relentlessly impulsive, as well as flirty with themes.

Jeunet has a rare find in Audrey Tautou, the pert and impish girl with saucer eyes who waves her wand upon other's lives. She looks like either Juliette Binoche from Chocolat, Marcia Gray from Meet Joe Black, or yes, Audrey Hepburn. She has such a little elfin charm and heart-shaped face, and in fact all the characters have their own charm; they are scrupulously detailed. One would have been satisfied even if the characters never uttered a word, as they were rich and quirky and Jeunet's storytelling and imagery are such treats on their own.

Amelie is some sort of direct descendent of Jane Austen's most enduring character yet, Emma. This version is the most drawing and fantastic of the recent remakes, namely 1996's Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Clueless with Alicia Silverstone. The film has been compared quite frequently with Chocolat for the following reasons: Both are set in France, both have female protagonists who work in the food service industry, and both Amelie and Juliette Binoche's character Vianne spend their time playing matchmaker between their customers. More importantly, they both believe to a degree that they are outcasts to society, and learn to overcome their obstacles over the course of the movie.

The R rating for this film was very undeserved, occurring only because of a brief shot of breasts and an innocent scene that happens to take place in a sex shop. If the film were judged on content instead of bean-counting incidental nudity, Amelie would be PG-13. (Incidentally, in Norway it was approved for everyone over 11).

Official site: amelie-themovie.com

p.s. thank you for recommending this to me!

Last year I visited Paris for the first time, a marvelous city celebrated by this charming and quirky little movie. The café where Amélie works, the apartment where she lives, the little shop where the abusive grocer rules, are in Montmartre, one of the neighbourhoods I found the loveliest in this great metropolis. It is a peculiarly Parisian joy that pleasant little neighbouroods like this also contain majestic gems - in this case, Sacre Coeur, whose domes jutted dramatically against a clear blue sky when we were there. They also often abut seedy joints, like Moulin Rouge, which we ran up against as soon as we stepped off the metro on our way to Montmartre. Today the Moulin Rouge bears little resemblance to the hallucinogenic pleasure dome of the glorious Baz Luhrmann movie - if it ever did, even in its heyday; instead, it recalls nothing so much as a strip club, and we hurried past.

Paris is crowded with traffic and tourists and locals, but with the help of some clever cards showing walking tours, we were able to negotiate our way to some quieter areas. In Montmartre our cards led us up the busy narrow street past the very cafe that was featured in "Amélie". It wasn't so golden, so welcoming, so lovely as in the movie, but we stopped for a café crème anyway, and sat in a cramped table in an open window near where the cigarette counter had been added for the film. The scars of its removal were still fresh.

We watched the delivery vans negotiate their way through the crowded streets to the small shops that were just opening, clerks setting out gorgeous cheeses and jars of foie gras as they readied for business. At the café's sidewalk tables, just in front of us, sat an aging transvestite, a bedraggled Euro-girl traveller, a young Frenchman, and his black and white bull terrier.

Now a bull terrier is an odd-looking dog. In profile the bridge of its nose juts out instead of in, and its eyes are small and piggy. It has short hair, in this case white with a few black spots, and it's stout and broad-chested and stocky. It's generally an even-tempered canine, though, and this one was no exception: in fact, it was downright sucky. It had placed its front paws on the young man's legs and burrowed its head into his lap, and it remained there, motionless, while he finished off his cigarette and espresso. Finally he dislodged the dog with a few affectionate shoves; it scrabbled for a minute before heaving itself, with his assistance, onto the chair next to him, whereupon it leaned against him and heaved a weary sigh. He lit another smoke and ordered another espresso, chatting and gesticulating all the while. A young Japanese couple made their way into the café, consulting their guidebook to ensure that this was one made famous by the film.

Then up the street came a father and his little daughter, perhaps three years old. She was a vivacious and precocious young thing, chatting happily away, when suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks, thrust her arm out to point directly at the dog, and exclaimed, "Regarde! Une vache!" ("Look! A cow!") She was oblivious to the chuckles of the adults nearby, her face a picture of wonder and delight at this most unexpected sight. Her father gave a very Gallic shrug and prevaricated, "Mais, c'est comme un vache" ("Well, it's like a cow"), but she was not to be deterred. She took a hesitating step towards her cow as the animated young man encouraged her to pet it, which she did, a little awkwardly, giggling and recoiling slightly when it gave her a lick. Then, after a quick chat, too fast for me to follow, they resumed their errand, and the dog settled back into its master's side as he lit another cigarette.

As we finished our coffee and left, we felt that we had witnessed one of those magical formative childhood moments in the life of a real Amélie, and that one day she would make a movie or write a book or knit a sweater which would feature a cow in Montmartre, and while everyone would consider it a flight of fancy, we would know that it was true because, just for a second, we had seen that bovine too.

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