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September 19, 2009

Most people I know are not fans of foreign films, especially ones from France. The main complaints I hear are how uninteresting, confusing, and bland they are– oh yeah and then there’s the whole reading subtitles thing. Yet the one foreign film that a majority of people love is 2001’s Amélie. After initially seeing it years ago, my recent recollection was being impressed but thought it was overrated; however after seeing it again I forgot how wrong my memories normally are.

Audrey Tatou immortalizes herself as Amélie, a fresh faced angelic woman who looks like she just fell straight from heaven. However despite her saintly beauty, Amélie is an empty soul who never truly experienced love or passion. Growing up a home-schooled only child Amélie’s only source of love and affection are her parents who due to their own eccentrics are incapable of giving her such. Instead a suicidal goldfish and imaginary friends are her only companions. Amélie grows to become a waitress who receives simple pleasures in life such as cracking créme brulée with a teaspoon, skipping stones, and dipping her hands in sacks of grain. After hearing the news of the death of Princess Diana a shocked Amélie drops the top to her perfume bottle causing it to roll and reveal an old tin box hidden behind her bathroom wall, in it is memorabilia left by a child in the 1950s. This discovery leads to a deep determination inside Amélie to return the nostalgic treasure to the now aging man which thus sparks a need to bring happiness to those around her. Throughout her helpful adventures however she meets and falls in love with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a quirky collector of discarded photos from a local photo booth and employee at an adult novelty store. In Nino she sees the potential companion and lover she’s never had pushing her to do what it takes for him to notice her.

While Amélie’s good deeds and romantic pursuit of Nino are deeply touching and inspiring it’s the jarring moments of spectacle and the cinematography that makes this film an instant classic. The combination of director Jean-Peirre Jeunet’s fluid camera movements and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s vivid use of lighting and color from deep reds, eerie greens, to bold blues makes every frame of Amélie look like piece of art. The impressive use of speeding zooms, extreme close ups, and angled shots invoke empathy and humor from many of the scenes such as when Amélie decides to avenge a friend after he’s been berated by a co-worker. She enters the accused’s home to bring chaos to his carefully organized life as through tight close-ups and edits the camera focuses on each detail of the man’s anal retentive arrangements. Once she’s done her damage Amélie leaves his home and in her mind’s eye, seen through a black and white shot, she uses a sword to carve a Z on his door while cloaked in a black cape, mask, and hat invoking the spirit of Zorro to leave her mark.Amélie not only focuses on the main characters but throughout introduces the audience to numerous seemingly insignificant characters yet each have their own personal and engaging stories allowing the audience to have a brief but sympathetic seeing eye into their lives even in their most intimate situations.

I oddly enough saw both Amélie and the 1999 film American Beauty around the same time a few years ago and just recently watched them both over again. I realized that although Amélie came two years later, it is what American Beauty wanted to be. While the two can be seen as polar opposites as American Beauty is a dramatic study of a deteriorating upper class family and the people around them and Amélie is a light hearted fluffy romance, the two are both deeply artistic films that exploit that weakness and sadness of human beings. However Amélie’s depiction is more realistic despite its overtly quirky deliverance. Amélie doesn’t way itself down in depression and melodramatics the way American Beauty did, Amélie instead kept a fluttering feeling of hope throughout the film even when Amélie’s new sense of worldly compassion appears to bite her in the ass. It’s a film so sweet that your teeth began rotting by the end credits yet you find yourself still smiling 5 minutes after it’s over, a feat that has proven to be rare for many film to successfully do without coming off cheesy and predictable.

SEE IT. Again if you have, if you haven’t why?

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