Amelie 2001 - Movie Review
Amelie, released in the United States in 2001 shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11th, is one of my favorite movies. After discovering Amelie, it is still my go-to movie during uncertain times, as we are once again facing here in America through a strained economy and a suffering quality of life. It is nothing short of a beautiful escape and an inspired reminder of how we are capable of changing each others lives.
Amelie, which was nominated for 5 Oscars, is a French film with English subtitles and a romantic comedy. Amelie's quirky elements are truly expressed through the lead character herself. Played by actress Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code, 2006), Amelie is a true heroin indeed- reminding us of the beauty, exploration, and excitement in life. She's a grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland. She's 'Amelie in Montmartre-' a 23-year-old's journey to finding true meaning, love, and above all, pure happiness in a world which can leave you feeling secluded at times.
Amelie is very much of a visual film, not only from the expressive facial expressions we get from Amelie through reaction shots throughout the film (her enchanting smile is unforgettable), but also through the amazing cinematography and art direction.
The colors are beautiful, mesmerizing saturation throughout, set in a 1973 Paris, France- the year that Amelie is born- and in a land that looks too perfect to be real. There is no violence, trash, or anything really unsightly anywhere to be seen and we don't mind entering this unrealistic escape. We are meant to see everything vivid and alive because we are seeing the 'world' through Amelie's mind- one that is truly swirling with the unlimited ability of a child's imagination.
We are introduced to Amelie's life through narration. The narrator, an unknown, off-screen French male voice, describes Amelie's childhood. He tells us about her mother and father and describes their quirky behaviors, such as Amelie's father who enjoys lining up all his shoes and shining them and Amelie's mother who doesn't like for people to touch her hands. We can infer that this is where Amelie gets her quirks, which we later encounter as we see her as a young woman on her own.
At the age of 6, we learn that Amelie wants nothing more than to be hugged by her dad, as the narrator explains any little girl would, but her dad never touched her except to give her monthly health check-ups. During these times, Amelie would get so excited, her heart would beat extra fast, and her father would mistake her for having a heart defect! This causes Amelie to be kept at home and schooled by her mother.
As a result, we are introduced to Amelie's only friend, Bubba the goldfish. (A goldfish in a lively orange color, you can't help but think of the goldfish from Dr.Suess.) Unfortunately, one day Bubba decides to jump out of his tank. This causes Amelie's mother so much distress, it is decided that Bubba will be poured out into a lake. Now on her own, Amelie has no choice but to rely on her imagination for friends and we actually see these imaginary characters within the frame! As the story continues, it is obvious that most of what we're seeing is a reflection of Amelie's childlike imagination. We're seeing what she's thinking- which makes for creative art and effects throughout the film.
Amelie losing Bubba isn't the only tragedy she encounters at a young age. She loses her mother when a woman committing suicide accidently falls on top of her. Amelie is left alone to be raised by her father, who is completely obsessed with creating a shrine to remember his wife.
At 18, Amelie decides that living with her father is too depressing and moves into a little apartment in Montmartre. She finds work as a waitress at a café and soon our invitation into her life begins. Now 23, our first close-up of Amelie is as an adult with dark, short hair that flips out at the ends with short bangs, fair skin, wide eyes, and her trademark red, sly smile that matches her bright red top.
We are constantly reminded that we are watching a film. We are aware of the camera's fast pace and cutting, in addition to this dream-like Paris. When we see Amelie at the train station going to visit her father one Sunday, she walks toward a homeless man whom she stops to hand money to. He rejects her offer, claiming he doesn't "work" on Sundays!
In this visit with her father, Amelie realizes he is still living in the past with the memory of her mother. She tries to persuade him to travel to no avail. Later she decides to steal her father's garden gnome and sends the gnome all around the world through the help of a flight attendant who takes pictures of the gnome at the various locations and mails them to Amelie's father. This sends her father into a state of frenzy about how this could be and eventually does realize this indeed is a sign for him to travel (as Amelie had suggested.) This good deed isn't the beginning or end of Amelie's goodwill toward others.
We soon begin to learn the quirky little things about her, such as her guilty pleasures- enjoying the feeling of sticking her hand into a bag of beans, breaking through crème brulee with a spoon, and skipping stones at St. Martin's canal. All things she does alone. It is also interesting to note when she does things within the frame that don't seem important, but are. These seemingly insignificant things make her who she is- such as when she randomly picks stones off the ground, blows on them, and then drops them into her jacket pocket. She finds beauty others cannot see.
In one scene, standing on a hill overlooking her town, Amelie amuses herself by wondering how many couples are having an orgasm at that exact moment. We see the shot cut into a fast-cut montage sequence showing 15 different shots of 15 different couples having orgasms, as we hear their yelps of ecstacy! Then the sequence is cut back to Amelie standing on the hill. She looks directly into the camera and lets us know there were 15 (in case we weren't counting) with a goofy grin on her face.
In her apartment, Amelie is in the bathroom applying perfume while listening to the television, when suddenly her life is changed forever. She hears the news that Princess Diana has died in a car accident. The shock causes her to drop the bottle of perfume. As she kneels down to pick it up, she notices a loose tile at the bottom of one wall. She removes the tile and finds that it's a cubby hole, and inside, a little trinket box covered in dust. Amelie is excited and then quickly reminded of the tragic news still pouring from the television set. She turns it off and turns her attention back on the mystery of this box. Within the contents, she discovers a young man may have hid the box in the 1950's and decides to make it her mission to find the owner and possibly change his life forever. She determines that if he is grateful, she will continue to do good by others whenever she can.
This goodwill toward others eventually takes her on a journey to finding true love, but not without a cat-and-mouse game to the end! She never fails to take us on an adventure through her active imagination- whether it's seeing her life being broadcast on her own television set, feeling that the attractive stranger can see right through her to her quickly beating heart, or even paying homage to Zorro as she defeats the villain of the film. The goofy special effects and animation keep the movie light-hearted and fun.
Amelie begins with beautifully composed instrumental music that is heard on-and-off throughout the film and again at the end. The art direction and cinematography of Amelie is nothing less than absolute magic. Although the setting is an unrealistic Paris, it still reminds us of the true beauty of life all around us and what is truly important- that love and humanity will always prevail, no matter what evils may lurk in the shadows of our lives.
By Eva Hanna