Postmortem: Amélie


Warning: spoilers ahead. But, I mean, this isn’t Game of Thrones we’re talking about here.

I had heard that Amélie was a bubbly, joyful, heartwarming kind of movie. It was – but it’s also deeper, heavier, even a little darker than I expected. That’s a good thing.

It’s a French film, French-language with subtitles, released in 2001. Nominated for five Oscars. I kept finding little references to it in various corners of the Net, and finally decided I should give it a try. Betsy and I watched it on Sunday.

Amélie is an introverted young Parisian woman with a menagerie of eclectic neighbors, including a brittle-boned old painter who can’t leave his apartment, a grocer who abuses his slow but kind assistant, and a middle-aged woman who obsesses over her long-dead husband. Amélie’s father is distant and cold (think Spock without the charm or the science). She has no close friends and has never formed a serious romance.

Then one day she finds a tiny old box of toys and tracks down its owner, a grandfather who lost the mementos a lifetime ago. She moves him to tears and vows to become an angel of kindness in her complicated little society, enacting elaborate schemes to give people what she thinks they want.

Not all her schemes end well, and even the successful ones remind her of the gaps in her own life. She eventually finds love of her own and must confront her fears of getting close. Of course, it all turns out happily in the end.

The movie has a warm, quirky style that reminds me of Wes Anderson. (The actual director was Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed, of all things, Alien: Resurrection.) A faceless omniscient narrator explains the likes and dislikes of characters as they’re introduced, giving us an insider’s guide to this colorful world.

We learn Amélie’s entire life history, from conception (complete with a photo of the exact sperm that created her) to her mother’s death (caused by a suicidal jumper landing right on top of her) to her unusual hobbies (trying to guess how many orgasms are happening in the city right that moment, as we are treated to vivid footage of the same). Special effects create visual metaphor, as when Amélie literally melts into the floor from emotion, or when we actually see her heart pumping away inside her.

Most of all, I was struck by Amélie‘s boundless energy, endless creativity, and hilarious audacity. Streaks of darkness are often played for laughs, but there’s sadness and magic in her world as well. By the end, I felt lucky to have been a part of it.

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