One week from today I will be on my way to Paris for a wedding in Montmartre, so in honor of my upcoming trip (and my desire to immerse myself in French things to prepare) this week for Beauty in the Movies I’m taking you all on a trip to Paris with me, in the adorably quirky French film, Amélie.
When Amélie (Audrey Tautou) was a child, her mother’s sudden death left her to be raised by her emotionally distant father (Rufus). As a result of her solitude she withdrew into a world of imagination. In her early twenties Amélie leaves home to work as a waitress at The Two Windmills Café in Montmartre. When she accidentally finds a tin treasure box hidden by a child in her apartment in the 1950s, she resolves to return the box of memories to its owner. Her quest, and subsequent success, lead her to find small ways to improve the lives of those around her (and maybe punish those who deserve it) in amusing and endearing ways.
Amélie is surrounded by eclectic and overblown characters, but while she knows them all well, she has trouble relating to them. In the café where she works there is Madame Suzanne (Claire Maurier) a former circus performer, Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) a neurotic hypochondriac, failed author Hipolito (Artus de Penguern), amateur healer Gina (Clotilde Mollet) and her jealous, obsessive ex-boyfriend, Joseph (Dominique Pinon). Even the characters who are only on screen for a short time give great performances and contribute a great deal of humor to the film.
There is no shortage of unusual characters in Amélie’s apartment building either, there is a patronizing grocer and his imaginative, one-armed, assistant Lucien (Jamel Debbouze), a miserable lovelorn landlady Mary Wallace (Yolande Moreau), and Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), whose bones are as fragile as glass preventing him from ever leaving his home. Amélie and Monsieur Dufayel form a bond, but she resents that he sees through her and he accuses her of using good deeds as a way to avoid making actual connections with others. As someone who physically can’t get out and enjoy the world, Monsieur Dufayel wants to make sure Amélie doesn’t let life pass her by.
Despite being a “feel-good” movie, Amélie is essentially about loneliness. Not the way we often see it in romantic comedies, it’s not related to the protagonist wanting romance, it’s about her wanting to connect with someone—anyone, and not knowing how. Amélie may have a social anxiety disorder, but whatever it is that causes her to live in her own world, it’s something most of us have felt at times and it can be difficult to break out of. She deals with her struggle by bringing happiness to others in order to take part in their lives in some way, even if they never know she is responsible. In her role as guardian angel, she stumbles upon Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), another dreamer whose unusual interests tend to alienate him from others. Unfortunately, when two people are lost in their own fantasies, it’s hard to get them together. I guess you’ll have to watch the film to see if they ever figure it out.
Probably the most well know of Amélie’s antics is the jet-setting gnome who sets off on a journey around the world sending snapshots back to his utterly confused owner, Amélie’s reclusive father. Until I started researching this post, I had no idea that the “traveling gnome” prank actually started in Australia in the 1980s, I always thought it started with Amélie, I guess you learn something new everyday!
The look and the feel of this film is simply gorgeous, the saturated colors, the richness of the scenery, the attention to detail, everything is handled with an immense amount of care. The score, by composer Yann Tiersen is incredible, it fits the mood of the film perfectly and also makes for great background (or foreground) music, I highly recommend it. This film fits together so nicely, there isn’t a poor actor, a clumsy section of dialogue, or a stitch of pretension, it’s a modern-day fable, or dare I say it a fairy-tale. It may be light-hearted and often very funny, but it also makes you want to appreciate life in every detail.
Amélie exists in its own world, highly stylized, maybe a bit idealized, but grounded enough that you feel deeply for the characters and the world they inhabit. It would be easy for a movie with such offbeat characters to go over the top, but the core of the story is about people interacting in a very human, even simple, way. At times the gestures Amélie makes to cheer others are very in-depth, but sometimes they’re incredibly small, and often that’s all it takes to put a spring in someone’s step. After watching Amélie you may not be moved to launch a strategy to improve your neighbors lives, but you might just stop and take a closer look at everything around you, all the strangeness of the world, and be surprised at the beauty you find there.
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