Amelie (Audrey Tautou), a young waitress living in Montmarte, happens to find a small box of toys behind a loose tile in her bathroom. She decides to anonymously reunite the toys with their owner, now a man in his late 40s. After she tracks him down, she leaves the box in a phone booth that he passes every day. As he passes, she calls the booth causing him to stop and find the box. Amelie stops at a local bar and the man also stops there, talking about the curious events of the day. He proclaims that he will call his daughter and grandson, because he hasn’t talked to his daughter in many years. Gratified, Amelie begins to do small anonymous favors for the people in her life. Her path crosses with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a strange young man who collects discarded photo booth pictures. She is attracted to him, but completely unable to introduce herself.
I think it would be difficult for anyone to dislike “Amelie”. The story is so uplifting, the lead actress is so enormously appealing and likable, the supporting cast is so excellent, the production qualities are completely top notch.
Jeunet has crafted a vision of Montmarte and Paris that is idyllic, picture book perfect, causing many intellectuals in France to denounce the film. In my opinion, these people are trying to find fault with the film because it is so good. They are jealous. This is a lovable confection for all ages. I’ll address the all ages thing later.
The film is washed in a sepia tint giving each frame the appearance of an old photograph. Set in 1997, the settings look like they were pulled from the 40s. With the exception of a modern video camera, pretty much the entire film is devoid of modern technology. None of the characters drive cars and only one of them uses a small motor bike to get around. This lack of technology only serves to make the film appear even more like a fairy tale.
Amelie and her friends inhabit a Paris that is also extremely clean. No graffiti and little dirt appear in any frame as she travels to and fro. This helps attain and retain the idealized vision of life that in turn helps the viewer live inside this fairy tale.
Amelie, as played by Audrey Tautou, is so kind, friendly and infectious that it is difficult not to like her. Tautou could pass as Audrey Hepburn’s love child, the resemblance is so striking. She is a young woman that realizes she has a gift for helping people anonymously. With this realization, it becomes her reason for life. Amelie is a strange girl, quiet but pretty, unconfident with strangers but also looking for a relationship. She grew up in a strange family environment, which helps explain some of her behavior. This family history is amusingly, and quickly, presented by Jeunet at the beginning of the film. Audrey Tautou is very charming in this role and this film. I inadvertently watched a DVD of “French Beauty Institute” the same night. Tautou has a supporting role in the film, but barely makes an impact. Hopefully, she will be able to find the type of roles that will ensure a long and healthy career.
The overall message of “Amelie” is so uplifting that it raised my spirits all day. Much like the disastrous American film “Pay It Forward”, the film has a message that if we help strangers, our world will be a better place. The difference in the story between the two films is that “Amelie” does not rely on preachy storytelling or character martyrdom to get the message across. Amelie does her thing and the consequences happen, causing us to laugh and learn from her example.
Another wonderful thing about the film is that not all of the consequences of her good deeds last for very long. Despite the fairy tale aspect of the film, this helps it seem more real and gives the message more resonance.
I would think that “Amelie” would be a perfect film to take the entire family to, but there are a few things to be aware of. The film is subtitled, which will prevent the youngest kids from understanding it. Also, there are a few very brief images of nudity in a sexual situation. Two scenes are set in a sex shop and the characters price sex toys before displaying them, but they don’t discuss them at all or put them into the context of what they are supposed to do. These few things will probably keep parents from taking children, but, in my view, that is a mistake. If they can read subtitles, they should see “Amelie”. The film is great for everyone and should eventually be experienced by everyone. Wouldn’t it be better for your child to see a film about a girl who does good deeds than some violent action film at every mutliplex?
“Amelie” apparently caused quite a sensation in France. It is now the top grossing film in that country and has inspired people to do little good deeds for strangers. I have even heard that a tour company is offering a tour of the sights used in the film.
Hopefully, “Amelie” will catch on here in the U.S. as well.