Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Practical curmudgeons would argue that there’s no such thing as love at first sight. Well poo on them. It may have taken more than a moment, but not much more; after a minute or two at best, I wanted to marry Amelie.
How could any normal-blooded male not? Here’s a striking lass whose outer beauty is only exceeded by her inner. So cute, adorable, sweet, and sensitive—yet possessing a wry flare—Amelie wins your heart through both unassuming benevolence and a mysterious aura. Likewise, you’ll fall for the entrancing film that tells her story and bears her name. Now I don’t know if Amelie will change your life (though it very well may), but it will at the very least give the one you have a great big joyful boost.
Watching Amelie (sounds almost like Emily) is like watching a beautiful novel. A narrator, serving as reader, tells much of the story in voice over (more so in the first half anyway) as sumptuous images portray his storytelling. This construct serves the film well because it’s not merely a film—it’s a fable. A fable worthy of traditional oral recitation, one to be told by fireplaces and bedsides. It is, however, an uncommon fable in one respect—it’s for adults (and not just for its occasional but comically explicit sexuality). Oh, it has the spirit of childhood about it, but its layers and themes are for grown-ups, and ones grown-ups would do well to heed.
Though young, Amelie is a woman at a crossroads. Her life has had its share of tragedies and coldness, and now even with an ever-present smile on her face (and charisma that makes her the Mary Tyler Moore of french cinema) she simply drifts through the malaise of everyday. But hearing the shocking news of a recent real-life tragedy (a reference initially shrewd and, subsequently, purposeful to the film’s ideas) triggers a fluke discovery that rouses Amelie out of her nothingness with a revelation: bring joy to the lives of strangers. She does, and in the process brings a bundle of joy our way, too.
The film starts off on a simple yet intriguing focus, one that properly sets up both its thesis and tone. As we’re introduced to various people, we learn of their specific likes and dislikes. This isn’t garden variety favorite color/hobby/etc. stuff. We learn the unique idiosyncrasies—i.e. life’s simple pleasures—that bring certain individuals happiness, and contentment. It’s really funny, and it grabs our attention instantly.
So does the photography. Boy howdy, this is one gorgeous piece of cinema. Rich in color, texture, movement, and overall composition, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography pops off the screen with luscious splendor. Aline Bonetto’s production design and Volker Schafer’s art direction are vital here, too, and the collaboration of these talents make for one of the year’s best visual achievements. With a Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) type pizzazz, these are images full of artistry, energy, and life.
The film’s setup—what with Amelie’s not-so-hunky-dory past—sounds like an initial downer, and in most hands it would be (perhaps pretentiously so), but not here. Not in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film. This is surprising, considering that some of Jeunet’s recent work—The City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection—isn’t exactly the stuff of uplifting magic. But that’s exactly what Amelie is, and for the normally despondent French cinema that sure is a wonderful switch.
Indeed, Amelie is a film defined by its fantasy, one that unfolds like one big flight of fancy, reveling in the stuff of dreams as Amelie helps dreams come true. Composer Yann Tiersen’s whimsical (and distinctly, classically Euro) music score is the under-girding spirit, maintaining a playful humor even through some bleak moments. This reflects the overall tonal dichotomy, one that reveals a dark comic edge playfully flowing under the film’s sweet surface.
This trait is personified through Amelie in a couple of different ways. Foremost, we see this in Amelie’s pursuits as unseen angel. She becomes a patron saint to nearly everyone she encounters, helping orchestrate circumstances so that wishes are granted and desires fulfilled. But she wields an ornery yet playful sense of justice as well, setting up traps and devices so that bad things happen to bad people.
She goes about doing all this by intentionally inconspicuous means, standing off from a distance, spying on the blessed chosen, getting her own joy from the shock of theirs. But it’s not mere humility that keeps her behind the scenes but rather a fear of closeness. It’s this Freudian undercurrent that gives the character and film a necessary counterpoint and depth. Through the companionship of a wise old neighbor’s (and a clever ongoing reference to one of his paintings), we see how Amelie’s actions are in large part a front that she uses to avoid addressing her own need for love. This elevates Amelie from infectious charmer to something with an emotional stake.
Jeunet’s script and direction basks in unceasing brilliance. The concept isn’t all that original but the world created is. Each character has his or her own endearing trait or quirk, but then so do many of the allegedly inanimate objects. The sight of a ceramic pig lamp turning itself off is one of the many visual treats in a film that throws out one inspired idea after another. Jeunet applies special effects to communicate thoughts, moods, and feelings, not simply to dazzle only.
The performances are all first-rate, with Serge Merlin’s “Glass Man” Raymond and Jamel Debbouze’s mentally-handicapped yet carefree Lucien being standouts. But it’s Audrey Tautou in the title role that enraptures our gaze. No doubt if this were an English language film, Tautou’s performance as Amelie would be a star-making turn. What an allure she conjurs. It radiates from her every pore, yet is done so effortlessly. You simply can’t take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it—which is most of
If the film has a drawback it’s in the length. At two hours, this straightforward story drags on past its welcome. The film’s final act, with its focus on the pursuit of Amelie’s dream being fulfilled, is necessary and without fluff. But about fifteen to twenty minutes of the preceding two-thirds could be excised. Some subplots are developed more than they need to be, and after awhile it’s a small case of “okay, she’s helping people while avoiding getting help for herself, we get it already.” But that’s a minor quibble, and could very well not be shared by many. Really, you may be too preoccupied with an overwhelming love for life to even notice.
Read all 73 Reviews
Write a Review
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age