Amélie (original French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain”) is a fun and beautiful film which follows the journey of Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) from a life of anxious isolation, to that of good Samaritan, helping others, and ultimately herself, find happiness.
Amélie’s isolation stems from her ex-Army doctor father, who never touches her, except while administering her monthly check-up, and her nervous schoolmistress mother who is constantly worried about Amélie’s education. Amélie’s condition worsens when her mother dies as a result of someone else’s suicide. As an adult, Amélie pursues a career as a waitress. One day, while hearing the news of Princess Di’s death on TV, everything changes. Amélie drops a bottle cap, which breaks loose a piece of tile that was hiding a box of childhood treasures placed there years ago by a young boy. Amélie decides to find the boy, who is now a grown man, and return his treasures to him. Upon seeing how happy this makes him, Amélie dedicates her life to bringing these little moments of happiness to the lives of others. Meanwhile, Amélie picks up a lost photo album, dropped by a man who collects discarded photo booth pictures. Between her good deeds, Amélie leads the owner of the photo album around on a wild goose chase, as she’s too shy to approach him to return his book and get to know him better. Through all of this, Amélie’s shut-in neighbor, Mr. Glass Man (Serge Merlin), named so for his brittle bones, helps Amélie build her confidence as she helps him solve a problem with his painting.
We meet a variety of characters who filter in and out of Amélie’s life. As we meet them, the narrator quickly tells us of their likes and dislikes. These entertaining moments not only tell us about the characters, but gives us a window into the little things that bring them joy. We come away from the film with an appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
Beautifully shot with a yellow overcast and purposefully over lit interiors, it always feels like morning, the time of day we get to start over, start fresh, and where anything is possible. The use of wide angle lenses is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s work and gives a surreal visual twist to Amélie’s good deeds. Audrey Tautou’s face loves the camera and it loves her back, her sly grin is both inviting and deflecting. It says, “I’m up to something, I’m not telling you what it is, but you can join me if you like.”
Amélie’s not the only unique character in this film. She’s surrounded by memorable characters who could have fallen out of a Coen Brothers or Gilliam film. Have you ever noticed that you remember what every character looked like in a Coen Brothers or Gilliam film? Likewise, in Amélie, each character, no matter how insignificant, is memorable and fun to watch.
If you’ve wanted to dip your toe into the world of foreign film, this is a great place to start. The characters, colours, and story, make it easy to get swept away in Amélie.