Compassion is occasionally viewed as one of those virtues lacking in us. Yet it encompasses such meaningful activities as small expressions of love, words of encouragement, various kinds of etiquette, and a general largess. This creatively energized film presents an unforgettable portrait of a woman who demonstrates a remarkable talent for the spiritual practice of kindness.
Amélie is a buoyant French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Amelie is a directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the French filmmaker who had earlier known for the last installment of the uncomfortably Hollywood Alien franchise, Alien Resurrection (1997). Jeunet is also known for his French-language collaborations with co-writer/director Marc Caro, Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995).
Amelie is a comedy, the story of a shy, imaginative woman who decides to change the world by changing the lives of the people she knows. Amelie (played French actress Audrey Tatou) had an eccentric childhood, we learn through flashback, raised by two equally eccentric parents who overprotected her, believing her (incorrectly) to be suffering from a rare heart condition. As a result, she was held out of school, and, as a result, spent most of her time alone, developing an active fantasy life.
Amelie begins with the juxtaposition of a series of unconnected, everyday images. We witness a fly being run over by a car, switch abruptly to drinking glasses dancing on a white cloth being blown by the wind, and then a man rubbing out the telephone number from his address book of a friend who has just died. Under a microscope a sperm embeds itself into an egg—we are witnessing the conception of the film’s main character, Amelie.
The first major turning point in Amelie’s life occurs when her mother, the one person she has significant contact with as a child, is accidentally killed by a suicidal Canadian tourist leaping from atop a cathedral at precisely the wrong time. Her father, already emotional distant, becomes more so. In spite of all this, Amelie’ somehow grows up to be a fairly well-adjusted adult, now working as a café waitress. The second turning point in Amelie’s life is when Princess Diana dies in a car wreck 1997. She alerts her to the fleeting nature of life, and she decides that she should do all she can to bring joy to those around her while there is still time. This quest draws her into the life of a strange assortment of characters—a neurotic, an elderly artist with a rare bone disease, a boorish vegetable stand owner, a young adult video store clerk obsessed with collecting discarded photo booth photos, and her own emotionally repressed father. There are couple of very funny subplots involving the rearranging of furniture and a globe-trotting garden goblin.
In his earlier movie, the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, had very complex plots, and here the story is very gentle and there’s no confusions in the world of Amelie with the world we live in. It’s a world that’s purely (and slightly perversely) fantasy, a fairy tale for adults. It’s a world that manages to be both self-indulgent and compassionate at the same time, taking pleasure in the pleasure of others, appreciating both the small joys of life and its huge absurdities. Above all, Amelie is, like Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (another terrific movie released in 2001) about emotional growth, human connection, and learning to be thankful for the small, good things in life.
According to Jeunet the world is a vast mesh of barely comprehensible causes and effects which defy any sort of meaningful change on a large scale. Nevertheless opportunities do arise whereby the individual can initiate changes in life’s fabric with dramatic consequences. As one character comments; life is like the Tour de France, blink at the wrong moment and you miss it. In fact the film’s message is thoroughly trite and familiar—the world is full of wonder and mystery, keep your senses alert, your eyes open for opportunities and maybe you can overcome the tawdry fate that awaits most of mankind. Amelie is, all in all, despite the gags and visual fireworks, a thoroughly conformist film.
That Jeunet is able recreate so many of the small, good things in life in such fine detail during the course of the hour-and-a-half of film that is Amelie speaks volumes about his talent as a filmmaker. The film met with critical acclaim and was a major box-office success. Amélie won Best Film at the European Film Awards; it won four César Awards (including Best Film and Best Director), two BAFTA Awards (including Best Original Screenplay), and was nominated for five Academy Awards.
- Written & Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Produced by Jean-Marc Deschamps & Claudie Ossard
- Story by Guillaume Laurant & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Narrated by André Dussollier
- Cast: Audrey Tautou & Mathieu Kassovitz
- Music by Yann Tiersen
- Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel
- Editing by Hervé Schneid
- Distributed by UGC Fox Distribution (France) & Miramax Films (US)
- Release dates: 25 April 2001 (France)
- Language: French