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!