Assuming you either speak French or aren’t adverse to reading subtitles, I dare anyone to not have a smile on their face while watching Amélie, a quirky, feel good comedy that is filled to the brim with pure joy. I can’t remember the last film I watched that had a main character so sweet — so joyous — that I wanted to give her a great big hug for warming up my day. Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is that type of character.
She wasn’t always this way. When she was a child, she was homeschooled by her mother, had a suicidal goldfish, and was convinced that when she took pictures with her camera, she caused disasters like car crashes, major fires, and even wars. After her mother died (she was crushed by someone who jumped off a building hoping to kill himself), her father (Rufus) stopped paying her much attention, dedicating himself to a shrine built around her mother. Suffice to say that she had an odd childhood.
An omnipotent narrator explains all of this to us. Amélie tells some of the story, breaking the fourth wall occasionally, but we’re mostly getting our information from this voice playing over random events in the film. Amélie eventually grew up, and is now working at a café/bar in Montmartre. We learn pretty much all we need to know about some random customers and the rest of the staff via some hilarious interludes. This is the type of film that would rather give you too much information than too little. For instance, did you know Amélie likes to go to movies and watch the faces of the people behind her to see their reaction to the events on-screen?
Does that little tidbit of information end up mattering? Not really, but it’s a unique take on giving us characterization, and I for one was happy to have it. It instantly tells us what kind of person Amélie is: An introverted people pleaser. Our major events of the film come after the tragic death of Princess Diana. Amélie finds out about this and drops a bottle cap which rolls along her kitchen floor, knocking loose a tile in the wall. Inside is a tin box filled with a bunch of childhood items. Amélie devises a plan: Return this item to its rightful owner no matter what it takes.
After that is resolved, for better or worse, Amélie decides to embark on another quest: Improve as many lives as possible given her limited resources. Her “victims” of this devious scheme include: A neighbor who cannot leave the house due to his fragile skeleton, members of her workplace, a man whom she might love, her father, a man at the food booth outside of her apartment building, and many more. The potential love is what gets the most time, although we get enough to understand how each of the other situations can play out.
Amélie is a film where its lead character is anything but conventional. Instead of taking the logical approach to all of these situations, she opts to make things as complex as possible. She can handle these complexities — she’s quite smart even if she doesn’t quite understand her fellow man — so watching the film play out is like watching a smart person solve a puzzle. Or maybe your grandmother, as she’ll tell you she loves you and then give you freshly baked cookies. That sounds more akin to Amélie‘s nature.
This is such a lovable movie. It has a sharp sense of humor as well, but the comedy aspects, while certainly present, are pushed to the background so that you can watch a do-gooder go about improving other people’s lives. She neglects her own, for a while, although she eventually realizes that she’s a person who needs love and affection as well, even if she still values others much more than herself.
The cynic in you is asking “Where’s the conflict?” right about now. There isn’t a lot in this film, admittedly, but it doesn’t really need any. There are a couple of situations that don’t quite work out as Amélie expects, and you can call that conflict if you want, but they’re usually more bumps in the road than real problems. And Amélie still approaches them with a smile, just as happy as she always is.
The filmmaking here is as unique and interesting as its main character. We get a ton of odd camera angles, fast cutting, saturation, desaturation — Amélie looks like very few films out there. It’s quirky and fits perfectly with Amélie. There is also a lot to look out for — little coincidences in the plot that you won’t see or notice on a first glance. This is a film you can re-watch endlessly thanks to its content and warmth.
Amélie would fall apart if it wasn’t for the heartwarming turn by Audrey Tautou in the lead role. She makes Amélie so amiable, so kind and sweet that it’s almost impossible to not instantly warm up to her. Smiling all the time isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, especially in filmmaking when take after take after take is required, so you have to hand it to someone who can stay like that for the entire film. And in the few moments where another emotion is required, she has no problems there either.
Amélie might not be a perfect film, but none of its flaws really matter while your watching it — or after you watch it. It’s a film you watch and feel incredible after watching. Every moment is imbued with love, and love and joy is what you feel after it finishes. It doesn’t need conflict! It has Audrey Tautou playing a charismatic role in a spectacularly joyous movie. Do you need than that? No. The answer you want is an emphatic “no.”