One woman decides to change the world by changing the lives of the people she knows in this charming and romantic comic fantasy from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Amelie (Audrey Tautou) is a young woman who had a decidedly unusual childhood; misdiagnosed with an unusual heart condition, Amelie didn't attend school with other children, but spent most of her time in her room, where she developed a keen imagination and an active fantasy life. Her mother Amandine (Lorella Cravotta) died in a freak
The pleasure of Jeunet's film lies not only in the beautifully written script and excellent performances from the ensemble cast, but also in his re-envisioning of contemporary Paris. Creating the fantastical out of the everyday, Jeunet paints a seductive image of Montmartre. A contrast to the lurid images created by Baz Luhrmann for his overblown, underwritten Moulin Rouge (2001), Amélie's strength lies in the transformation of what could have been a confection into an account of loneliness; the tiniest details building up a portrait of life in a bustling metropolis.
All around Amélie are characters whose existence is made up of the daily routine of working, sleeping and finding pleasure in any activity that offers comfort to relieve the pain of being alone. Amélie's father takes pleasure in collecting gnomes, while her landlady re-reads the letters of her dead husband. At the café where she works, Amélie's colleagues and clientele are imbued with a sadness and longing for happiness or company. An aspiring novelist muses over the one drink he can afford while waiting for success. A colleague is desperate for someone to love her. An ex-lover of a waitress watches her jealously, recording on a dictaphone her every movement or conversation. With each character, Amélie takes it upon herself to improve their lives, with varying degrees of success.
Jeunet's defence against critics who lambasted the film for it's bourgeois attitude and its 'whitenesss' is that the film is neither real nor representative, but his imagining of the Montmartre of his youth. The resulting film draws closely on the more lyrical elements of both Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier in their compassionate portraits of Parisian life.
Jeunet found his perfect couple in Mathieu Kassovitz and Audrey Tautou. A former model, Tautou exudes a fragile, glacial beauty, which contrasts well with her character's impish sense of mischievousness, as she sets about righting wrongs and wreaking havoc on the lives of those for whom meanness is their only quality. Occasionally cartoon in her expressions, she embodies Jeunet's lighter touch and makes the transition from the darker portrayals of human nature of his previous work, to a lighter view of human existence, easier to swallow. Similarly, Kassovitz's lithe, handsome stranger replaces the awkward and grotesque heroes of Delicatessen and City of the Lost Children (1995). Similar to the role he played in A Self-Made Hero (1995), Kassovitz possesses an other-worldliness that perfectly complements Tautou's kooky outsider.
Jeunet's film is lightweight. There is no desire to ask searching questions about human existence or throw a light upon the problems of life in contemporary France. It is, however, an utterly spellbinding fable that, though needing a complete suspension of disbelief and requiring you to check in any cynical attitudes at the box office, will leave you enthralled. Rarely in contemporary cinema has a director conveyed so beautifully the feeling of falling in love