Every now and then, a film comes along and surprises you. Not a film I would regularly watch, Amélie (or to give it the full French title, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) is the story of a shy Parisian waitress, Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tatou, The Da Vinci Code, Coco Before Chanel) who discovers that she can find happiness by making others happy. This leads her equally unique and mysterious Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassowitz, Assassin(s), Munich) and finds her own happiness.
Set in the Montmatre region of Paris during 1997, just after the death of Princess Diana, Amélie is a character driven experience. The director, Jean Pierre-Jeunet, focuses on the smaller details of his eccentric, oddball characters, and it’s these people in the background that truly make the film. Ranging from the hypochondriac tobacconist and a reclusive neighbour, to the failed writer and the jealous ex-boyfriend of one of Amélie’s co-workers, all are important. The director could have easily used stock character’s here, but the fact that Pierre-Jeunet gave each of these side characters a sub-plot shows how much effort he put in.
The lead roles are just as good as those in the background. Tatou makes the character, giving Amélie a sense of charm and intrigue, so much so that I can’t imagine any other actress in the role. Alongside her, Kassowitz is just as good, but the level of character development isn’t the same. This is because this is Amélie’s story, and therefore is centralised on her. But he still manages to lend a true sense of validity and authenticity to the character.
But all of this would mean nothing if the audience didn’t feel anything towards the film. Luckily, Pierre-Jeunet manages to forge emotional link with the audience, and makes them have a range of feelings, from the happiness of an old man rediscovering his childhood, to the sadness of Amélie’s isolated childhood, with the occasional moment of subtle humour. Amélie successfully captures the essence of France, from the language (it is entirely in French, with English subtitles) to the culture, which afterwards made me want to go and visit Paris.
Amélie is artsy, European cinema at its greatest. No, it’s not full of explosions and one-liners, but it is a vibrant, character-driven romance film that transports the audience to a fantastical and optimistic city. If someone came up to me who knew nothing about France and wanted to learn more, I would show them Amélie.