Review: Amelie

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?

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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.

Review by Andy BoxallSee all reviews

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

Buy on DVD:
Amazon.co.uk: DVD | Blu-ray

More reviews: Latest | Archive

About the Author
Rather than saying one particular film holds the position of his favourite, Andy has a list of films that “click” with him, including American Graffiti, Videodrome, Grosse Pointe Blank, Ghostbusters, American Psycho and Suspiria.

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  1. DEZMOND Reply

    although most people would expect to see this one in my top ten fave films of all times 🙂 I actually didn’t like it that much and I fully agree with this great and spot-on review.
    “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” – this sentence really sums up everything I’ve always thought about the film. And I say this as someone who is known for adoring and supporting feelgood, inspiring, heartwarming films. I think they’ve had the idea, but didn’t realize it in the right way. It ended up being cold, as you boldly stated above.

  2. Castor Reply

    Interesting review. I thought it was charming and whimsical. I know guys who absolutely despise just about every romantic movies out there and still enjoying this one.

  3. Andy Boxall Reply

    @dezmond Thanks for your comments, I too like feel good, heartwarming films, but they’re far harder to create than many think. I wanted to like Amelie more, but it just didn’t click for me.

    @Castor I know I’m in the minority with my opinion of Amelie, but her charms completely escaped me, and I’m by no means an anti-romantic movie person.

  4. Claire Reply

    I like that phrase, Andy, ‘annoyingly quirky’ 😛

    I agree with you that they are very quirky but, for me, it works. I have seen this film quite a few times now and still enjoy it though it has turned into one of the films that I’ll just have on the background and do something else as well.

  5. niels Reply

    I was so involved the first time I watched Amelie that I remember uttering a strange and pure sound of joy when Amelie decided to finally chase after the love of her life and he was still standing by the door as she opened it unsuspectingly. I figured he might still be there but somehow it all worked.

    I felt emotionally involved with all of the characters and we, as film reviewers, critics, or whatever we would like to consider ourselves to be, should be aware that Amelie never intends to be rooted in reality, after all, a tale so improbable and so fantastical could not possible happen in real life. In fact, I believe the film looks the way it does to enhance that sense that we are indeed in a fantasy world where a single person, with all of her limitations and imperfections, can positively affect the lives of so many people.

    The supporting characters are a bit quirky yes, I agree, but I believe that serves a purpose and it’s none other than to support the lightheartedness of the film, which never takes itself too seriously, often softening dramatic moments with humor. It’s definitely not a laugh-out-loud kind of humor, but cute and effective.

    Having said all that, I would also like to add that I found the score by Yann Tiersen to be absolutely beautiful, and that I found the ideas and the construction of the story to be wildly original.

    I really recommend anyone to read the New York Times review of the film, which is also included in their latest edition of the 1,000 best films ever made. The review is not only wonderfully written but it expresses all that I feel towards the film and more.

    Niels

  6. Dave Reply

    Such a shame you never fell for the love of this film,I really adored it and it made me feel so cheery. We need to soften that heart of yours Andy

  7. Amy Reply

    I loved Amelie, I was completely enchanted by Audrey Tautou. I remember missing it at the cinemas and the excitement of it coming out on DVD was too much for me to contain! I think I had convinced myself I was going to love it before I’d even seen it. Good job I enjoy it so much otherwise I’d have been in for great disappointment!

  8. Andina Reply

    Well, I personally love the movie. It’s pretty rare to put someone like Amelie and her quirky people beside her in a spotlight. Too bad you didn’t like it, but some movies just doesn’t work for us to like it like others.

  9. Andy Boxall Reply

    @Dave Ha! Well, I always thought it was soft, but now I’m beginning to wonder!

    @Claire Thanks! Background or foreground, I wouldn’t want to spend any more time with those people in the cafe than I already did. They were all too much for me.

  10. David Reply

    I think my Blu-ray is a German version.You have to own it for its wonderful colors.

  11. Danny Reply

    I’ve seen a couple of people who love films take on this one, and I think the problem may come from that this movie kicked off the Manic Pixie Girl craze of the 00’s that quickly grew tiresome. The movie’s tropes felt fresh and new, and now, while it’s an undeniably beautiful picture, it’s much more intimately familiar.

    Amelie beget Zooey Deschanel’s career, and for that we can never forgive ourselves as a people.

  12. Aidy P Reply

    Oh I love this movie! So in love with it and it is a perfect movie for Valentine’s Day–with or without a date!

  13. Andrew Reply

    In spite of all the quirks, the characters here still feel really genuine, which is why Amelie works so well for me. I think it’s possible for characters to be complete oddballs and still retain some palatable nature that makes them human enough that we like them; while I wouldn’t say that Jenuet is a master at that, he certainly does a good job with it here.

    Mostly I think the film sticks with me for technical reasons. It’s gorgeous to look at, and it’s shot and cut beautifully.

  14. Yeah. Reply

    One of the of the most putrid, puerile and pathetic movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of coming across.

    The review was spot on, but took it too lightly. Amelie herself was infuriatingly annoying, so much so that I’ve never managed to sit through this movie before.

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