Amélie (2001): France – directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Rated R by the MPAA – contains some sexual content
I’ve seen Amélie several times and will most likely watch it many more. It is, after all, one of my favorite films. Watching it again with Aimee was, as always, a great pleasure.
It is one of the rare films that is almost pure joy. Everything about it sparkles, making it practically impossible not to smile. It is a fantastic production, with everything from the story, the characters, the writing, direction, and aesthetic adding to the sense of wonderment and joy.
It’s the finest film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Along with Marc Caro he developed a very unique film style in movies ranging from Delicatessen to The City of Lost Children. Here, though, Jeunet is on his own. Familiar faces from previous Jeunet/Caro productions, like Dominique Pinon, playing Joseph, an obsessive loiterer in Amélie’s cafe, and Rufus, as Amélie’s father, are back once again. They are just two of the many colorful supporting characters.
But the film is full of characters, starting with Amélie herself. She’s a bit shy, and the other characters in the film regard her as “pretty for her type.” I find this as odd, as she is played by the inimitable Audrey Tautou, who is quite beautiful and adorable. As Amélie she is a bit of a dreamer, preferring things to be the way she imagines them rather than the way they are. This leads to her causing mischief for some of the supporting characters and bringing joy to many others.
She’s a waitress in Montmartre and lives in an apartment building with a cast of odd characters. There’s the glass man, who is old and was born with brittle bones. He can’t go out, since even a handshake would crush his hand, so he stays inside and paints. There’s a neurotic landlady who pines after both her unfaithful husband (whose picture she still keeps) and her deceased dog (whose stuffed body she still keeps.) The corner grocery is run by a not particularly pleasant fellow, who constantly picks on his apprentice, who has a good heart but might be a bit slow mentally. We mustn’t forgot Amélie’s fellow cafe workers. One’s a faith healer, who has poor luck with men, and another is a hypochondriac.
These supporting characters are as colorful as the film itself, but the real joy comes from Amélie’s interactions with everyone. The night Lady Diana dies, Amélie drops something in shock upon hearing the news from the television. It rolls and nudges a tile in the bathroom wall, and, upon further inspection, Amélie discovers a small box of treasures hidden inside. At that moment she decides to go about doing good and making people smile. She tracks down the owner of the box, creates some mischief with the mean store owner, raises the hopes and spirits of those around her, and then runs into some trouble. She notices another dreamer, and soon is afraid she’s falling in love. His name is Nino (played by Matthieu Kassovitz, a talented director in his own right, having made the gritty La Haine.) He collects the discarded pictures people take of themselves in the subway photo booths. The latter half of the film primarily consists of the cat-and-mouse game the two of them play.
I realize that the plot described above may sound a little cheesy, which is not at all what I intended. It doesn’t come off that way in the film, either, due to the tenderness and quirkiness that Jeunet creates for the characters. His very stylish directing also helps, as we see numerous rapid sequences introducing the characters and repeated fantasy segments as he visually illustrates the emotional moods of the characters. Much of what he does has been emulated since, but I don’t think it’s ever been done as wonderfully as it is here. The soundtrack, too, adds immensely to the whimsical nature of parts of the film. I love the soundtrack so much, in fact, that we used certain tracks for our wedding reception.
There’s almost nothing about the film I don’t like. My face is covered in a rapt, joyous smile at the beginning and it rarely lets up through the end credits. I’m not sure there is another film that stirs that sort of emotion in me. That fact, combined with the amazing production and talent exhibited by the actors, writers (Guillaume Laurant and Jeunet), and director, make this one of my favorite films of all time, and one I hope others will sit down and enjoy.