Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
starring Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Dominique Pinon
The curious thing about Amelie is not how wonderful it is or funny or
how happy the audiences are when watching this eccentric but captivating
film but just how ill equipped most British reviewers are to cope with
something uplifting and full of joy.
They heap praise on such miserable films as Code Unknown
Dir Michael Haneke or talk rapturously about the young director of George
Washington a film set in a dead-end Tennessee town as the new Terence
Malik. (Both films are slow, tortuous to watch and disadvantaged by a
complete absence of a story - a key element of good movie making). When
the critic of the Financial Times says that Amelie is a placard
for meaningless optimism...and above all I hate HER you know that
this film is something special. It has touched a raw nerve. Critics are
really happy to send us to turgid ill-concieved naturalistic portrayals
of rape or torture or depravity (see Intimacy Directed by
Partrice Chereau) because somehow this may make them feel less embarrassed
about their expense accounts - they may also loathe the idea of a European
film being popular. After all Godard made a reputation out
of alienating his audience and critics loved him. Truffaut was hated for
being popular but eventually he was much missed as few other French film
makers could reach mass audiences around the world after him.
And so to Jeunets Amelie - following on from Delicatessen
and City of Lost Children (Ill skip the Alien movie)
This film is as far away from current British cinema as it is possible
to go, yet evokes a cosier world that has similarities to the old Ealing
comedies, but with a twist.
Audrey Tautou as Amelie is cute and pretty, but like the weird child she
was in the earlier part of the movie, is strange and eccentric, alienated
from society. She is not a conventional heroine and those who choose to
concentrate on the sweetness of the film do not look at the darker more
sinister element she represents. All she does is for other peoples
good but it could have all gone so easily wrong and been misinterpreted
. Jeunet took a risk too. His audiences are used to his strange contrived
special worlds. Delicatessen is possibly set in a post-nuclear
war France in the 1950's and the only food to eat is each other. In the
hands of a Hollywood director it would have terrifying, or ludicrous.
In Jeunets hands it is macabre but visually stunning, hilarious
and fantastically well observed and to watch this film is to own it and
treasure it. The City of Lost Children again creates a special world what
just could not exist outside of grotesque fairy-tales. A giant befriends
a beautiful young girl - who is a thief. They search for a child the giant
thinks is his brother. The child, like most of the other children, have
been snatched by a religious cult who seek to sell the children to a scientist
who experiments on children to enable him to regain the ability to dream.
The subtext might be cruel, the people grotesque, the world he creates
fantastic, but again, this is a film that dips cuteness in acid and was
at the time one of the most expensive French films ever made.
Amelie, written with a new partner, takes Jeunet back to his roots. An
earlier short film I Love, I hate also starring Dominique
Pinon uses almost all the elements that are now embedded within Amelie.:
quick cuts,a series of montages, mugging to the camera, a self-aware acknowledgement
of the camera and set pieces. It is funny and at the same time provides
all the clues to what has now become Amelie.
Jeunet has, as before, created a special world. An impossibly cute, quiet,
Paris. The very thing that critics seem to object to is what is in effect
the exact thing we go to Jeunet films to enjoy. His ability to make the
familiar strange and ethereal. Monmatre is almost devoid of people and
cars and dog shit and is a lot better for it.
We begin with the birth of Amelie to weird repressed parents who grow
up believing she has a weak heart and so she is educated at home. She
has to create make-believe friends and longs to leave for the real world.
It is so depressing her fish tries to commit suicide. Her mother passes
away, her father becomes even more eccentric and although he longs to
travel will not leave the home. Amelie finally does.
As a grown up we find she is a waitress in a cafe in Monmatre. This Paris
is not full of glamourous people, but ordinary characters with flaws and
longings but little ambition. Amelie finds a tin box behind her bathroom
wall - filled with childhood memories. She resolves to find the owner
and return it and furthermore, if the man enjoys it, she will dedicate
her life to making other people happy. Its whimsical, impossible,
but of course, in a movie, totally logical. How she goes about it however
shows that she is cunning, devious, calculating and resolute.
Her attempts to make a racist green grocer moderate his behavior to his
immigrant assistant determined and the results funny. Amelie isnt
trying to change the world and watching this wont stop the bombing
of Afghanistan. You do not have to feel guilty that you are watching a
film that will make you happy. It has been the most successful French
film in a decade. This is no reason to put the film down because it has
struck a nerve with the French. Those audiences are heartily sick of depressing
French movies such as Code Unknown. They want pacy well shot
and acted films such as Mathieu Kassovitzs own Crimson
Rivers earlier this year. Amelie is eccentric and cute, but
it is funny and acutely observed and devoid of cynicism and as such it
has opened a door and let in a gale to blown away the stale offerings
And for those who look for roots and influences upon Jeunet. Look no further
than Jacques Tati and Monsieur Hulot. Amelie is more slick,
funnier, absurd and ultimately rewarding and it is immensely encouraging
that for once a French film has opened in fifteen cinemas in London and
I hope that it finds the audience it needs. Certainly as the bombs fall
in Afghanistan, it is no crime to want to see something to reaffirm your
faith in human nature.
© Sam North
< Reply to this Article