For my next movie pick, I go across the sea to take care of the “Foreign” category by visiting a rather foreign culture – France. And their 2001 hit, Amelie.
The movie could be classified as a “rom com” since it has a bit of romance, and its own brand of humor, but those French do things a little differently, so this is no “Sleepless in Marseilles” or “Bride Wars In Berets.” The French are well-known for considering Jerry Lewis a comic genius, so it’s fair to say they have a slightly different sensibility than American audiences usually. Amelie is no exception, but to me, the cultural different and flat out quirkiness really work to its favor on this one.
Amelie, the movie stars Amelie the girl, played by a young Audrey Tautou long before she’d rise to international fame helping Tom Hanks crack some code or other. Amelie typically dresses as if she shopped at a place called Prematurely Dowdy, has a boy’s hair cut…and is cute as a button nonetheless. She has a rare kind of charm that flies off the screen, something made easier by her role in this one. Amelie is a shy and socially-awkward, but kind-hearted young woman living in the city, waitressing at a cafe. She was brought up by her stern, doctor dad after her Mom died tragically when the girl was young. Only the French could make a little girl’s mother dying a comedic high point – remember what I said about “quirky” and different sensibilities! Likewise, her first pet was a suicidal goldfish.
Grown up Amelie is shy but friendly enough and has a few friends, but no real boyfriend. She “tried sex once or twice but found the results were disappointing.” So she turns to little pleasures like skipping stones, picking out the perfect fresh fruit at the market and looking out her window, wondering about her neighbor’s lives. One day she finds a hidden box in her apartment, seemingly the “treasures” of some young boy who’d lived there years earlier – simple toys, cartoons, a photo or two. She wonders about the boy and why these things meant so much to him, so she sets out to find him. After some detective work and talking to many people, she does locate the now middle-aged owner of the box, who is touched. That thrills her so much she decides to make her mission making others around her happy – the aging lady still pining for the love who’d left her decades earlier, the “Glass man”, a painter with brittle bones who never leaves his apartment, the grocery delivery boy, a bit dim and obsessed with Lady Di but a good heart, her dad who wants to see the world but can’t leave his hometown. And if need be, once in awhile she sets out to perturb those who are spiteful… the delivery boy’s angry, condescending boss for example.
She works hard on little projects that will make these people around her happier. And along the way, she’s come across a mystery man in the subway she likes the look of. He’s always lurking around photo booths, and of course she wonders why. Her little projects bring her new friends lots of joy and so too her. All is well until a talking pig lamp and one of her neighbors give her an unwanted reality check. Her making others happy is fine and good, but all the while she’s afraid to take any risk to make herself and her life happier.
Of course, she decides the photo booth guy is worth persuing. Does she eventually make herself happy? Well, it is a “rom com” remember.
Amelie is quirky in every way; “whimsical” according to Wikipidia. It does require constant reading of the sub-captions unless you have an understanding of French far better than my couple years’ high school French provided me. The movie even has a unique, bizzaro world look featuring oft-odd camera angles and a digital effect that mimics photographic cross-processing. The result is contrasty, slightly “off” colors that tend to lean heavily to the green-yellow end of the spectrum.
All that said, it is an experiment that worked. Not only did it win the Best Film Award at the European Film Awards, it managed to rake in about $174 million, a highly impressive tally for a low-budget European flick.
If charming but offbeat is your taste; Amelie might be your movie. I give it four puffy poodles out of five.