Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Dominique Pinon, Yolande Moreau, Andre Dussolier
… a joy to watch.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie begins with a sequence that transports us to several locations in Paris, capturing different moments all happening at the same time. A fly landing on a street, tablecloths dancing in the wind at a restaurant, a man erasing a friend’s name from his address book and the conception of our titular character: Amelie.
Immediately, you begin to realise the billions of moments that people are living through at every second. Some magical, some terrible and some just plain boring.
Amelie is a film that reminds us that everyone has their own story and their own thing going on. A welcome reminder for a human race that is prone to think about themselves, and themselves alone.
20 years on from its original release, Jeunet’s award-winning film is still as relevant as ever.
The story centres around Amelie, a Parisian girl who has been isolated from people most of her life (uncomfortably relatable during a state-wide lockdown in various Australian states). With her mother tragically killed and her father emotionally unavailable, she is forced to survive childhood through her imagination. The film’s narrator (Andre Dussolier) remarks, “In such a dead world, Amelie prefers to dream until she’s old enough to leave home.” She is left introverted and solitary, often preferring to observe others and think about them rather than socialise.
Nevertheless, she moves out, begins working at a cafe and is surrounded by a whole cast of odd characters that jump in and out of the story. We are introduced to each character with a brief description of a personal thing that they like and dislike. The owner of the cafe dislikes when fathers are humiliated in front of their sons, the lady who gets Amelie to look after her cat likes the sound the cat’s bowl makes on the tiled floor. Small intimate details like this reveal so much about the characters immediately.
All things change for Amelie when she randomly stumbles upon a small box in her apartment. The box is filled with different items hidden by the apartment’s previous owner forty years earlier. Amelie decides to return the box and in an emotional scene, we see the owner begin to weep as his youthful memories return. Amelie, struck by his reaction, makes it her will to try and better the lives of those around her.
Amelie does this in small ways and from behind the shadows, fulfilling the film’s tagline that ‘one person can change your life forever’. She leads a blind, homeless man to the train station whilst describing what is happening around them. She subtly sets up the jealous man who is a regular at her cafe with her hypochondriac co-worker. She manufactures a long-lost letter from the dead husband of her concierge.
In an iconic scene, she even begins to deal out small punishments. After seeing her grocer belittle his poor co-worker, we see Amelie go into his apartment and tweak little things. She changes his door handle, she switches his toothpaste, she sets his clock to the wrong time. We see once again that little things can make a huge difference when we watch the grocer in pure agony because of all the minuscule issues with his apartment.
All of this she does invisibly, refusing to propel her own life forward or anywhere at all. But, things change when she begins to fall in love with Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a man who collects discarded photographs from a passport photo booth. She must decide whether she will continue observing and remain unseen or do for herself, what she has done for others.
Amelie is a gorgeous film filled with countless colour coordinated scenes that feel intimately detailed and complex. Different shades of green, red and blue are constantly dancing across the screen and filling our eyes with joy. Standout moments occur when we enter Amelie’s mind and see paintings talk, and television segments examining her life.
Remastered for its twentieth anniversary, the film’s satisfying sounds of cracked creme brûlée, tea cups on saucers and rocks being skimmed, combined with its whimsical French score, sound delicious to the ear. And Audrey Tautou’s exquisite portrayal of the main character is tantalisingly sweet and a joy to watch.
The film is about the small details: the mise-en-scene, the loudness of each sound, the life of each minor character and the outcome of each action. Jeunet teaches us to appreciate these details because they are easily lost and forgotten.