What a fun film! From the moment it begins, "Amelie" bursts with joy and energy. It's a fable of sorts, a love letter to a Paris fondly dreamt of by many. It may not be the real world, but it is such a delightful fantasy that it doesn't matter how unbelievable some of it may be. "Amelie" is the rare romantic comedy that has both the romance and the comedy. It isn't very surprising that this has been a hit in France for a while now, and I have no doubt it will find the audience it needs in the States as well.
Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is a naive girl working at the Two Windmills Cafe. When she was a child her mother and teacher was an innocent victim of a suicide gone awry. Amelie stayed with her father until she was old enough to leave and lead a life of her own. One day she finds a small box of treasures behind a tile in her wall, she decides to return it to her owner and become a natural do-gooder. Later on, she catches a man groping for lost photos under a photo booth (Nino Quincampoix, played by Mathieu Kassovitz), and it's love at first sight. She decides to go on a quest to find this man and help anyone she can along the way (including her father and co-workers).
I said before that this film was a love letter to Paris, it is also a love letter to Amelie herself. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director and co-screenwriter) conjured the film like a dream, as if Amelie is his dream girl and he is trying to save her and bring her to a happy ending. It's not hard to want everything to work out for her and her friends. Amelie Poulain is the kind of person who you wish was your best friend, your neighbor or your sister. She bounces along with good grace and whimsy living life to its fullest, yet keeping a mischievous grin. She has her own idea of justice that isn't very disagreeable. The tormentors must in turn be tormented; the lifeless must be brought to life. The film is like a non-musical "Bells Are Ringing", with our heroine bringing so much life to those around her but neglecting her wants and needs.
After seeing Audrey Tautou as Amelie, I can't possibly imagine anyone else in that role. She embodies Amelie like no one else could, she is a rare find that pulls off the job of breathing life into Amelie in spades. Wait, I take that back. She does not just breathe life into Amelie, Tautou makes her jump off the screen and pull the audience into the story. It would be a crime for her not to get a Best Actress nomination for her role.
Magical is the world that Amelie lives in, where photos and lamps come alive to aid her quest, where TV shows are showing nothing but her story. The story this setting surrounds is pretty standard, and presented plainly could have just been another machine-processed romantic comedy. Is it too sappy? No. On the contrary, the film takes quite a few steps to make sure it doesn't become tacky or conventional. The rich, storybook setting and a witty screenplay (asides are taken to deepen our connection each character, little things that each likes and dislikes) make the film all the more a delight to watch. The cinematography, crafted by Bruno Delbonnel, does wonders for "Amelie". The camera captures the action with an eye of a child in a candy store, beautifully bringing about each shot as a new discovery.
With films like "The Widow of Saint-Pierre", "With a Friend Like Harry" and box-office hit "Brotherhood of the Wolf", French cinema has had quite a year. It's a delight that we round off the year with "Amelie", a fresh, funny journey that could have easily just been more Meg Ryan-esque romantic comedy fodder. If not for anything else, see it for Tautou's performance, but prepare to be smothered in a dream world.