Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Serge Merlin Review by Tom Coatsworth
A shy waitress who lives in her imagination discovers a small box filled with a child’s treasures – she sets out in search of the owner who is now a man in his fifties. She returns the box surreptitiously and it changes his life. She is filled with such a feeling of charity that she determines to cure all the world’s woes, one by one. But will she have the courage to change her own life?
(French -- with English subtitles.)
Nominated for 5 Oscars: sound; art direction; cinematography; screenplay; best foreign language film
A comedy with touches of fantasy and romance, bold uses of colour, art direction and camera-work – brilliant writing/directing – incredible music: it all served to make ‘Amélie’ a fresh break-through movie in 2001. Today a few of its novel flourishes are beginning to pale – it has been mined ruthlessly by imitators. Still Audrey Tautou’s magnificent performance and the irresistible charm of the production make it a modern masterpiece.
Amélie Poulain -- a shy young girl born in Paris to two neurotic control-freaks. She has no friends except a suicidal gold fish. She lives in her imagination. Her mother goes to church one day to pray for a baby; as she leaves a suicidal exchange student swan dives from the roof, killing her instantly. Very sad but oddly comic at the same time, the film takes our greatest sorrows and spins them into laughter.
Years later: Amélie works as a waitress at a café. She leads a quiet life, keeps to herself. But all that changes one night when she discovers a small box in her apartment. It has been hidden away for decades. It contains a small boy’s keepsakes. She asks around the neighbourhood and tries to establish who lived in her apt. in the fifties.
She asks her landlady, who has been grieving for years for a lost husband. She asks the local grocer. She goes on several wild goose chases. Finally the mysterious glass man calls her into his apartment. He has the name she is looking for. The glass man is old and frail and never leaves his rooms – the slightest shock would crack his bones. He observes the world from his window and paints copies of the same Renoir painting over and over again.
Furnished with a name Amélie finds the man and leaves the box in a telephone booth for him to discover. He is overcome with emotion, stumbles into the café and downs a couple cognacs. It has changed his life; he will seek out his estranged daughter and grandson before it is too late, before he is in a box.
Amélie is on fire – she feels in perfect harmony with the universe – she will go forth and conquer woe wherever she finds it. She starts with her Dad, retired now and living alone. He has a garden gnome that Amélie swipes, sends with a stewardess friend to destinations around the world. Dad receives photos of the gnome living it up in Moscow and other world capitols. One day the gnome returns to its spot in the garden, mystery unsolved. But Dad has the bug now and instead of gathering dust he catches a cab to the airport.
Amélie works her magic on the landlady; her husband had left her for another woman and then died in a plane crash. Amélie confiscates his letters, makes copies, dices and splices a new letter: he is through with the other woman and coming back to her. The landlady receives the letter with an explanation from the post office: it had been lost for decades and recently found in a plane wreck on top of Mont Blanc -- a complete fabrication, except that the great love of this poor woman’s life is a source of joy instead of sorrow.
Amélie turns her gaze on the glass man. She makes videos – a horse running in the tour de France; a woman playing a banjo; a one legged man dancing – life in all its infinite variety. She leaves the tapes on his doorstep and he’s astounded; but unlike the others he sees the magician’s hand. And he sees the magician: Amélie has met a man in her travels – a dreamer who works at an amusement park. Will she have the courage to change her own life and make a bet on love? Or will she wither and retreat into a room? It is the glass man now who turns the trick.
The French are famous for their long and involved shots – mise-en-scène -- there are several here. At one point the camera swoops high over Amélie who is skipping stones, descends to water level and the stone skitters by -- a little help with CGI. It’s a delightful break from montage fimmaking. The music is by Yann Tiersen. It has a street busker feel to it – accordion, piano; the Parisian street music you remember from a dream or another life. This film has a vision of the world and it articulates it wonderfully. To rate wonderful things is to make them smaller for no good reason – to rate a kiss or a rose or a starlit night... Amélie is a wonderful thing – it is a kiss, it is a rose.