Amelie was recently released on Blu-ray in the UK. Andy Boxall revisits the film that wowed audiences across the world on its release in 2001. But do its charms still work today?
Currently sitting at number 51 in IMDb’s top 250 films of all time, a frequent addition to many ‘best film’ lists and with a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Amelie has been wooing audiences all over the world since its release in 2001. For a subtitled French movie with a then unknown lead actress, this is quite an achievement, so what has it done to deserve this seemingly universal adoration?
Amelie follows the adventures of Amelie Poulain, a shy introverted girl with a sad childhood, who after the chance discovery of a box of secrets left by a former resident of her home, decides she should try to bring joy to the lives of her small circle of acquaintances. However, when she meets Nino, a man who collects discarded photobooth pictures, she realizes she has found true love, and must overcome her shyness in order to bring joy into her own life.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the man behind Delicatessen and Alien Resurrection, Amelie couldn’t be more different in tone to his previous work. It’s whimsical, quirky, odd, fantastical and not afraid to break the fourth wall on occasion, all presumably with the intention of spreading a little of Amelie’s joy to the audience too.
Me? I found it slightly irritating, at times a bit dull and Amelie herself just weird rather than the adorable elfin waif others see her as. Quite where the adulation comes from is a little beyond me, as although perfectly acceptable, the film is nothing more than that. The idea of someone who is lonely deciding to make others happy is sweet, and some of Amelie’s attempts to do so are enjoyable flights of fantasy. Except all the people she’s helping are so annoyingly quirky that it’s a blessing when they’re off-screen.
“The idea of someone who is lonely deciding to make others happy is sweet…Except all the people she’s helping are so annoyingly quirky that it’s a blessing when they’re off-screen.”
There’s the hypochondriac who’s looking for love, the man who records the activities of his former beau on a tape recorder (so, a stalker then) and Nino the creepy photo collector who also works in a sex shop. Oh, how kooky and off-the-wall they are! Indeed, but blimey their supposedly lovable quirks soon wear thin.
Perhaps if it had been funny it would have helped, but instead it’s that forced ‘aren’t we being amusing’ style that’s not funny at all. You’ll know if you’re going to laugh all the way through or not quite early on, when Amelie wonders how many people are having an orgasm in the city right at that moment. Cut to quick-fire shots of orgasmic couples and either guffaws or silence from you, the viewer. It’s also too long, with the final hour dragging its heels while we become annoyed at the increasingly farcical non-relationship between Amelie and Nino.
That’s said, the film does look great, with a great deal of sweeping tracking shots, much use of a crane, tight close ups on faces and an amplified colour palette. It’s the colour scheme that adds to the fantasy feel of the film, almost changing Paris into Oz at times. Audrey Tautou is also excellent as Amelie, her big, dark, expressive eyes perfectly capturing her moments of awe, sadness and cheeky plotting that define her character.
So am I too hard of heart to fall for Amelie’s charms? No, in fact I found it oddly cold and lacked the warm glow I need to fall in love with a character and movie. Even the climactic kiss is a passionless affair. Amelie is a decent whimsical fantasy with a great central performance from Audrey Tautou, but quite why it has been embraced the way it has is something of a mystery.
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Released: 2001 / Genre: Comedy-Fantasy-Drama / Country: France / IMDB