Amélie is the story of a girl who devotes her life to brining happiness into the lives of the people around her. “It’s a movie that just makes you smile,” said any customer whoever bought a copy of it from me when I worked for a store that sold movies. And I would simply nod and agree, because the people who buy it are already converted into the church of Amélie. It’s a tale that’s cherished and cherishable; it’s a vibrant film that has the best of intentions and wears them on its sleeves.
On its release it was a resounding success, beloved by critics and audiences alike. Considering that the majority of the film’s wide-release dates came in the subsequent months following 9/11, I see this as no coincidence; it’s a perfect antidote for what was an inescapable torrent of tragedy and the world falling apart at the time.
It’s lavishly shot, showcasing the best retro-chic Paris that never existed (except for postcards and fake memories), and the still-incredible soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to what is from cradle to grave, a story designed to delight.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s trademark uneasy-grotesque style is amazingly adaptable to bring about whimsy rather than distaste, and everything, including the central performance from Audrey Tautou as the title character is pitched just right – everything works in the film, all elements part of a cohesive whole that succeeds in becoming a one-of-its-kind moviegoing experience. And it does just make you smile.
On the other hand, revisiting the film after 10 years does let the mind wander onto the film’s more sinister elements, like Amélie’s outright sociopathy.
On one hand, Amélie reconnects a man with his childhood, leading to a profound and moving moment in his life; on the other, she invades his privacy to do so, and does it with glee. Elsewhere, she shepherds a blind man across the road and narrates the surroundings to him, “opening his eyes” as it were to what he’s missing out on, or alternatively, she accosts an elderly man and leads him away from what he’s familiar with; she exacts revenge on a cruel grocer and gives him his comeuppance via gaslighting – a form of mental abuse. She steals her father’s property, meddles in the love lives of a co-worker and customer, stalks a man she’s romantically interested in, commits fraud at the expense of her landlady, and intentionally damages a photobooth – and all of this while wearing that damned pixie-smile.
But all of this is cute and quirky! I suspect it’s largely owed to the utterly-incredible soundtrack. Yann Tiersen’s lilting accordion and piano melodies capture the spirit of Amélie in equal measure to Tautou’s performance and cements her as the kind-hearted spirit the film intends instead of the unhinged sociopath she could’ve been.
So sure, it’s one of the happiest, most escapist and utterly delightful films you’ll ever see. But that Amélie’s a creep, man. Watch out for her.