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Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Produced in 2001
Main Language - French with English subtitles
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s giant raspberry swoon of a picture is very much a film of and for fantasists - it’s no surprise that our heroine, lonely waitress and professional do-gooder Amelie (Tautou), finds her belated match in a fellow lost soul (Kassovitz) working amidst the screams and shrieks of Montmartre’s porno shops and ghost trains. In the film’s fantasy sequences - where, amongst other effects, the waitress melts into a pool of cold water upon seeing her beloved - Jeunet demonstrates it’s not too far from Amelie to Ally McBeal; but where the American lawyer always seems trapped by her own cuteness, determined to be winsome at all legal costs, Amelie’s ever-spiralling gift for the imaginative proves something of a liberation as the film goes off in every direction, the camera charging through the heart of Paris and ending up in a district here given a real - if ethnically uncertain - sense of community, with all the fraught and tangled relationships that word implies.
The film takes the sensual over the sensational, though, and is more interested in the world’s life-giving petites morts than in death itself. This is a film of simple pleasures (sweets being made, hands being dipped into bags of grain, the smell of a lover’s hair, a box of trinkets) which keeps the grand tragedy of Princess Diana’s death in the French capital strictly as a backdrop. I was worried how this real-life event - with its treacly potential for sentimentality - might be filtered into the plot, but it turns out that Amelie is more interested in the pleasant sidebars than the press’s wailing headlines, and more affected by the quiet, unseen tragedies happening to those we personally know than by those celebrity deaths trumpeted across the news - these latter, Jeunet argues, are the type we can do nothing about.
There’s still something in the plot about cameras and accidents. An early joke has Amelie take revenge on the neighbour who tells her her automatic flash was responsible for a minor car crash, which feeds into the film’s best gag about the melancholic-looking man (Rufus) whose torn photos litter the floors of Photo-Me booths the whole Metro over. But this seems part of Amelie’s discourse on art and life, how we can take others’ personally-specific creations to our own hearts; at one point, the heroine watches a drab Russian military drama whose subtitles keep referring back to her own life. Certainly this is a movie about a woman who has to put some kind of distance between herself and her lover to maintain any kind of a relationship. This is a rather fun notion of romance as game-playing, and when our two star-crossed lovers finally kiss, it seems apt they make for predestined targets on the other’s face, trying to sink one another’s emotional Battleships. (In a film of such simple pleasures, Tautou and Kassovitz’s sole love scene is suitably simple - and pleasurable.)
Jeunet is here playing astute political games, delivering a feel-good movie which both assures the Right that there is still good in the world (even if it has to be brought about by exploited waitresses and sex shop workers) and suggests to the Left the need for more radical changes, like those brought about by Amelie, to improve a society. Tautou increases in charm and presence as the film goes on. With her stylish layered bob and big shoes, she first appears a little too girlish and model-like, as if she’s just stomped off the Paris Fashion Week catwalk and out into the periphery. Eventually, though, the casting begins to make perfect sense, particularly in those scenes where the happy-maker’s broken heart leaves her impossibly fragile: the noise you can hear in the cinema is that of an entire audience falling for one woman.
Mike McCahill on 3rd February 2002
Author of 215 reviews
Gorgeous, charming and thoroughly inventive, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
When innocent young Parisian Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) discovers a hidden collection of childhood toys in her apartment and conspires to return them to their now-elderly owner, the happiness on the old man's face is enough to start her on a campaign of further good works. Thus she sends her father's gnome off on a tour of the world, begins a whispering campaign which helps her colleague Georgette find a boyfriend, and comes up with an imaginative way to stop a local grocer from being cruel to his employee. But even though Amelie brings happiness to her neighbours, she herself remains unlucky in love - that is, until she meets the handsome Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz).
Length: 116 mins
Cat No: MP128D
Format: DVD Colour
- Interviews: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director)
- Commentaries: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director)
- Documentaries: 'Talent Q &
- A'. 'Audrey Tatou's Funny Faces'
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