Amelie, a.k.a.
Le Fabuleux destin d'Amˇlie Poulain
directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
(Miramax, 2001)

Amelie Poulain is a Parisian eccentic.

She grew up with a cold father (Rapha‘l Poulain), a tense mother (Lorella Cravotta) and a suicidal goldfish (Blubber). Now a young, independent woman with a flat of her own, a job as a waitress and a detached amusement towards sex, she seems content to drift through life distanced from the people around her. Then, news of Lady Di's tragic death causes a chain reaction of events that redefines Amelie's life. Soon, she begins a secret life as an anonymous do-gooder.

Through a variety of tiny, selfless acts, Amelie touches the people around her, changing their lives in small, yet immeasurably vast ways. She reconnects a man with his childhood. She sparks passion between two lonely people. She brings closure to a mourning woman through a voice from the past. She subtly and deliciously avenges the abuses a mean-spirited employer heaps on a mentally slow but well-meaning assistant. And she sends her own father around the world through the eyes of a simple garden gnome.

Best of all is the vivid, hurried scene in which she gives a blind man (Jean Darie) a vision of the bustling world around him.

Amelie is shy. She's empathetic. She's inventive. And, wherever she goes, she dips her hands in sacks of grain and collects flat stones for skipping. Actress Audrey Tautou is perfect in the role, a winsome young woman with huge, deep eyes and a fey smile to steal your heart away.

Director and co-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet has populated Amelie's Paris with a colorful array of eccentric characters, whose lives are strangely interconnected with Amelie as the focal point. There's Madeleine (Yolande Moreau), her distracted, lovelorn landlady; Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), her fragile downstairs neighbor, confined to his rooms and obsessed with a single painting; Collignon (Urbain Cancelier), a meticulous, cruel grocer, and Lucien (Jamel Debbouze), his warm-hearted but slow assistant; Suzanne (Claire Maurier), her boss, who used to work for a circus; her co-workers -- Georgette (Isabelle Nanty), a hypochondriac, and Gina (Clotilde Mollet), a chronic dater -- and her regular customers -- Hipolito (Artus de Penguern), a failed writer, and Joseph (Dominique Pinon), a jealous man.

And then there's Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), who works in a carnival ride and a porn shop, and who collects torn and discarded photos.

Jeunet pieces it all together in the cozy Paris untouched by decay, graffiti and other urban problems. He assembles a pastiche of life there using bold camera sweeps, cuts and zooms, time that flows faster and slower in turns, and occasional asides from our title character, who smiles knowingly and speaks to the audience with barely contained mischief. The film is presented in French, with subtitles, but don't let that prevent you from having this marvelous, magical experience. Amelie is a whimsical, romantic delight that will leave you feeling good in the way "feel-good" meant before being co-opted as a Hollywood catch-phrase, pulling magic from daily life and making kindness to others seem like a good thing again.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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