Amelie, or The Fabulous Life of Amelie Poulain, as it is known in its native France, is a film about a 23-year-old young woman who, having grown up as an attention-starved only child, spends her days making other people’s lives a little bit better. She helps blind people cross the street, plays matchmaker in the cafe where she works and befriends a lonely neighbour. She’s a cross between the traditional Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Jane Austen’s Emma – a bit quirky and focuses more on other people’s happiness than her own. And with a bit of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday thrown in for good measure.
Amelie was one of the first films I saw that really impressed me visually. I saw it as part of my Film Studies A Level, under the banner of surreal and fantasy films, and it instantly became one of my favourite films. That doesn’t happen very often, the instant favourite thing. Other times that has happened more recently include (belated) viewings of New Police Story and So I Married An Axe Murderer. Yes, really! I think it’s because I had really low expectations and they need repeat viewing to cement their ‘favourite’ status. My point is, when it comes to that second viewing, one of two things can happen. The film can not live up to how you remember it or it can meet or exceed your expectations/memories.
With Amelie, the gap between the first and second viewings was huge – approximately eight years (yes, it has been that long since I did my A Levels!). I have had it on DVD for years and claimed to love the film, yet I hadn’t seen it in almost forever. And that repeat viewing made me anxious. What if it wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered? What if I Audrey Tautou wasn’t as loveable as she has been since? What if it wasn’t one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s better films? With my book club and feel good film posts, time is of the essence and sometimes I can’t cram repeat viewings/readings in before I write the post. If I’ve seen/read it recently, I work from memory. With Amelie, it had been so long since the last time I saw it, I had no choice other than to finally crack open the DVD case and give it another go. And I was so nervous! I was afraid that it might not be a feel good film worthy of this post. But as soon as the narration kicked in and we were given an insight into Amelie’s childhood, I knew I needn’t have worried. It was everything I remembered and more.
For me, the highlight of the film isn’t the romance between Amelie and Nino. In fact, that was one of the things I remembered the least from the first time around. It’s all of the little things which don’t mean much on their own, but together create a truly beautiful and mesmerising film. It’s Bruno Delbonnel’s (A Very Long Engagement, Across the Universe, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) gorgeous cinematography, Yann Tierson’s enchanting original music and Jean-Baptiste Bonetto’s innovative special effects. Where else would you see talking paintings, a globe-trotting gnome and a woman melting into a puddle of water? It’s the little things which make this film memorable.
If you love Amelie, check out the other titles in writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s filmography. He directed Audrey Tautou again in A Very Long Engagement and has often worked with the same cinematographer, costume designer and special effects crew, ensuring that his films have the same visual style – a mark of a true auteur.