Amelie (2001)
Amelie (2001)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: November 16th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Actors: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Serge Merlin, Jamel Debbouze, Clotilde Mollet, Isabelle Nanty, Dominique Pinon, Yolande Moreau, Maurice Benichou

 


 

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n September 3rd, 1973, Amelie Poulain is born. This occurrence (made unorthodox by the jarring imagery of a naked, pregnant woman and sudden childbirth) is juxtaposed with random events, such as a man thinking about his friend’s funeral, and empty glasses dancing in the wind atop a billowing tablecloth. These normally unimportant, notably peculiar observations are just part of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s filmmaking modus operandi – along with all manner of editing and storytelling eccentricities. Amplified sounds, unusual camera angles, a muted color palette, split-screen moments, abrupt zooms, interruptive flashbacks, CG enhancements, and much more dart through the narrative to spice up the presentation – or turn it into something artistically unnatural.

The narrator continues to explain all about the Poulain family, in great detail; perhaps, in too much detail, carrying on about all sorts of character idiosyncrasies, likes, and dislikes. This segues to notes on Amelie’s upbringing, from her father’s misguided suspicions that she has a weak heart, to her homeschooling, to her mother’s untimely death, and finally to Amelie’s routine retreats into her imagination as a coping mechanism. As an adult, Amelie (Audrey Tautou) takes a waitressing job at the Two Windmills bar in Montmartre – itself full of countless colorful patrons. In 1997, her life changes drastically when she discovers a small box hidden in the wall, containing the treasures of a little boy, stashed away for some 40 years. In an instant, Amelie is inspired to seek out the owner to see what kind of reaction might be had from such an unexpected, nostalgic reunion.

Like a modernized, highly stylized revision of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” “Amelie” chronicles a motivated meddler and aspiring do-gooder as she transforms into a successful matchmaker – for everyone except herself, as she comes to mistakenly believe. Amelie’s exploits transition from mischief and revenge to stimulating the unrealized dreams of friends and acquaintances (most iconically with an internationally traveling gnome). In the end, though adventurously cultivating fulfilling arrangements (as if collecting enjoyable experiences, orchestrated like a game for others to win), she must battle her own introverted nature to woo an equally unconventional young man (Mathieu Kassovitz).

In lieu of traditional character development through actions, the film sheds some light on each role with brief facts, as if preparing audiences for a quiz of frivolous trivia. With a cinematographic focus on odd expressions, overworked buffoonery, and distorted faces and appendages that appear like extraterrestrial things (a trend started with “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children”), Jeunet works in commentary on the unanticipated significance of seemingly random interactions (akin to the “butterfly effect”) and a fatalistic interpretation of Amelie’s intentions to remain an anonymous social benefactor. Through an avoidance of reality (or a perpetual merger with fantasy) and escape through surrealism, the utter weirdness of the picture transforms into a surprisingly sentimental celebration of life. It’s hopeful, existential, funny, quirky, and romantic – despite a mild, nagging feeling that without the frequent, stylistic manipulations, it might all be terribly ordinary.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10