“Amélie” – Andrew Guarini

Amidst our lives of work, play, school, friends, family, this, that…we seem to forget to stop, look up for a moment and reflect about the joys of life even if only for a singular moment. If 2001’s Amélie did only thing flawlessly it would be to take a hopeful look into life along with the simplicities, complexities and unpredictable occurrences that so intricately compose it. When Amélie stands on a high terrace in Montmartre, France and wonders how many people are having an orgasm at that specific moment it is not an implementation of ostentatious quirkiness but genuine, heartfelt curiosity as to the all the small things in the world. The film tells the story of young, quiet, pretty Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) who shuffles her feet through life as a central Paris waitress and really doesn’t question her surroundings or break character: she simply goes about her business and usually keeps to herself. However, one day in her apartment she discovers an artifact from a former tenant’s childhood that sparks a discovery: life is short, and something we should cherish and spend acting and giving not standing on the side observing. Reaching out becomes a form of self discovery for Amélie and she sets herself on spending her time helping others. In one of the film’s delightfully cheeky moments of overwhelming happiness, Amélie walks a blind man through the streets of the city and describes in rich detail everything she sees. When I saw this early moment of the film for the first time I felt chills down my spine: this was something enlightening, life affirming, beautiful and special. This is the cinema of charming optimism.

Of course it’s also a love story, where along the way Amélie sees something significant in an equally odd young man named Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz). In their from a distance interactions lie some appropriately silly occurrences that perfectly reflect their respective shyness and lacking social skill despite their good intentions and caring nature. Along the way are many other colorful characters and events which pave the way for an incredible two hours that left me wanting more: I wanted more time with Amélie and more time to spend with her new, refreshing outlook on life, herself, love and others.

Two things accentuate the film to something that’s more than simply something uplifting and cute, but possibly timeless: Audrey Tautou as Amélie (the performances on the whole are sublime) and the artsy, innovative, colorful direction of famed Frenchie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. At first it may seem like an essentially anti-Godard/Truffaut showfest where restrained simplicity isn’t in the cards but the film has its own zany ways of conveying emotionally complex themes. It’s not just a story about Amélie for it takes deep focus into her neighbors and other townsfolk whose own eventful lives make for many memorable moments. I won’t spoil any, because Amélie’s remedies for sorrows, repairs to relationships and contributions to exuberance are joyful beyond words to watch unfold. When Amélie witnesses her love ignore her, the camera lingers as she turns into a figure of liquid and splashes to the floor in disappointment. You’d be inclined to simply think “Excuse me?” but instead Jeunet has us feeling her heartbroken mentality and her crushed morale. It’s just crazy enough to really work.

Jeunet’s visual trickery and magic bring the film to a whole new level but the pitch perfect casting of the vulnerable, newly world curious Amélie as Audrey Tautou is the highest of the film’s many shining achievements. At 5′3″ with a childish figure and a flooring smile Tautou is the awe-inspiring conveyor of innocence and naïveté for the layered character. In other hands her character might seem like something straight out of the movies: an impulsive transformation from a quiet recluse to a tremendous do-gooder and life changer. But she manages to make it just the opposite, a realistic depiction of someone who simply wants to make a difference in herself and those around her. It’s in everything from the body language to the at first deadpan delivery: when Amélie remarks to her spaced out father, “I had two heart attacks, an abortion, did crack…while I was pregnant. Other than that, I’m fine,” it’s another timely comedic detour from Amélie who we love more scene after scene. It’s something to be seen and believed. I find myself rarely saying this but it’s one of those elements of films that might be impossible not to be joyously intoxicated by.

Also worth mentioning is a simply unforgettable score by Yann Tiersen consisting of mainly, get this: an accordion. It’s a perfect complement to every scene that features it and one I searched for immediately after the film had completed for it didn’t distract me from scenes but put me further into a trance of cheerful bliss. This is a masterwork for not just French cinema but worldly cinema as a whole. The tagline reads “She’ll [Amélie] change your life”. Well, maybe it won’t stop the wars of the world or cure cancer but it will make you feel, and this is the most important aspect of movies: make us feel something, anything, When Amélie ended I didn’t know if I would ever be able to stop smiling again.

Rating: ★★★½

-Andrew Guarini

Read Chris Luedtke’s Amélie review here.

Leave a Reply