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.