• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:December 19, 2020

Amélie: An Ageless Fantasy


One of the best loved releases of 2001 didn’t entirely escape criticism. French critic Serge Kaganski wrote in the magazine Les Inrockuptibles how director Jean-Pierre Jeunet painted an unrealistic portrait of a France that didn’t exist, without ethnic minorities. Jeunet answered by pointing out that one of the actors, Jamel Debbouze, is of Moroccan descent and that a photo collection that plays a key role in the film has pictures of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Still, this is very much a fairy tale that presents an idealized, beautiful version of France, perfect for tourism, and whatever ethnic minorities are represented in the cast they hardly make an impact.

16 years later, this is still a two-hour fantasy that you wouldn’t want to refuse.

Developing a very active imagination
In 1974, Amélie Poulain is born and raised by parents who incorrectly believe that she has a heart problem. Home-schooled, the girl is often left on her own and develops a very active imagination; the death of her mother makes everything worse. As an adult, Amélie leaves her home and becomes a waitress at a café in Montmartre. She is still lonely, but knows how to cope, enjoying the small things in life; after trying sex, she realizes that part of a life isn’t necessarily the key to her happiness. Then, when Princess Diana dies in a car crash in 1997, everything changes. Amélie happens to find a metal box that’s been hidden in her apartment for decades; the box contains memorabilia from a boy. She decides to try and find the boy and give him the box…

Gorgeous views of Paris
The death of Di is what sets everything in motion, but it’s more a cultural mark in this film than a truly significant event; everything else in Amélie is sort of ageless, adding to the charm (or curse, depending on your view) of the film. The director broke through with Delicatessen (1991) and even though this one has a very different tone, it moves fast and often looks like an explosion of visual ideas, jokes and treats mixed with gorgeous views of Paris. It’s as if cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel decided to just run around and capture every wild notion of Jeunet’s – yet everything seems meticulously planned and editor Hervé Schneid holds it all together.

The story, where Amélie eventually finds the boy whose now a grown man and is encouraged to continue her mission to make everybody around her happy, may seem very simple, but you need to pay attention. The film introduces many supporting characters, some of them the colorful people who either work at or frequent Amélie’s café, whose lives also change because of her, even though that fact remains unknown to them. And then, inevitably, there’s a man who catches Amélie’s fancy. At first, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), who collects discarded photos of strangers from a photo booth, doesn’t seem like an important character, but Amélie meets him again and becomes attracted to him. Courting Nino also becomes one of her games, one she risks losing control of.

This part of the movie might have become too silly, but I remained committed to it because I believed in the character; someone whose been lonely all her life, but still happy in her imaginary world, might very well resort to this behavior in her attempt to do something as emotional as approach a man she’s fallen for.

Funny, romantic and moving, Amélie also resonates because of its casting; this was Audrey Tautou’s breakthrough and she’s irresistible, surrounded by many amusing supporting actors, including Dominique Pinon who was equally terrific in Delicatessen. 

AmĂ©lie 2001-France-Germany. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Claudie Ossard, Arne Meerkamp van Embden. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Screenplay: Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel. Music: Yann Tiersen. Editing: HervĂ© Schneid. Production Design: Aline Bonetto. Cast: Audrey Tautou (AmĂ©lie Poulain), Mathieu Kassovitz (Nino Quincampoix), Rufus (RaphaĂ«l Poulain), Yolande Moreau, Artus de Penguern, Urbain Cancelier… Dominique Pinon.

Trivia: Full French title: Le fabuleaux destin d’Amélie Poulain. Emily Watson was considered for the lead role.

BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay, Production Design. European Film Awards: Best Film, Director, Cinematographer.

Last word: “All day my mind drifts off into fantasies and little stupid jokes. For example, when Amelie looks out at the city and wonders how many people are screwing at that moment. I have those same kind of ridiculous questions all the time. [Holds up glass of water, points at the skyline.] Like now, how many people in this city are bringing a glass of water to their mouths? It’s always been pretty easy for me to exercise my imagination. The other part of the brain, the one that does mathematics, is a nightmare for me. It doesn’t work at all. When I was a kid, I used to escape from my family with my imagination, and I kept this spirit into my adult life. This doesn’t always happen. All children have imagination, but for some it doesn’t carry over.” (Jenuet, A.V. Club)



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