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Genre: Comedy Romance Romantic Comedy (France)
Starring: Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code • Dirty Pretty Things), Mathieu Kassovitz (Munich • Jakob the Liar)
Directed By: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen • A Very Long Engagement)
Overview: Amélie Poulin is a curious young Parisian girl who decides to help those around her, perhaps finding love along the way.
Squish has a hierarchy of film. Today I’d shuffle it around a little, but that half-serious gradient of cinematic worth puts Romantic Comedy firmly above only one other genre: Porn. Simply put, the formula of RomCom makes its movies pretty effin’ lame - consistently. You’ll note that at the top of this post, under Genre, I’ve labelled Amélie as a Comedy, as a Romance and as a Romantic Comedy. Right away that’s a good sign for you, dear reader. Although Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain does indeed fit the RomCom bill, I consider it more; I consider it having a value that transcends the pre-destined fate of the RomCom Lowest-Common-Denominator Formula. That’s entirely because, at its core, Amélie is a film about a girl and the people she interacts with, not a predictable capital-R Romance that is the title-promised ‘fabulous destiny’ Amélie will be graced with.
When Amélie (Audrey Tautou) was a young girl, her father mistakenly diagnosed her as having heart troubles. She was home-schooled, and with little human interaction in her childhood, she lived in a world of imagination. Now as an adult, she is a quiet girl working in a café in central Paris. One day, in a hidden corner of her apartment, she finds a stashed-away tin containing a boy’s mementos, decades old. Amélie decides to find the man and return his memorabilia to him. She decides that if it goes well, she will dedicate herself to helping others. It’s a simple premise that allows for a hundred variations. Amélie keeps it light and quirky, while keeping away from the heavy side of similar-themed movies like Pay It Forward. She helps a budding romance at her café, she sends her father’s gnome on a trip around the world, she gives fun videotapes to her brittle-boned neighbor. Of course she isn’t entirely a saint. Sometimes helping others includes being mischievous to those who deserve it. For instance, she breaks into a mean grocer’s apartment and changes little things, like swapping the toothpaste with the foot cream. Through it all is dreamer Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a man who collects the discarded pictures from metro station photo booths all over Paris. He keeps them in an album, ever trying to solve the mystery of the strange bald man who appears in so many of the discarded pictures. Of course Amélie works her magic with Nino as well…
What sets Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain apart from other films, aside from being a French export, is a handful of a hundred things. First is the unique Jean-Pierre Jeunet feel, with his usual colour palette of browns staccatoed with reds and blues. The cinematography is more exceptional than he’s had in his earlier films, making use of special effects editing in a slick way reminiscent of Run Lola Run. The film has an R-rating for the inclusion of nudity and sex - as part of Amélie’s imagination and as part of romance. But for as fantastical as Amélie’s story is, her actions don’t always result in a perfect conclusion for everyone involved – you know, like life does. All this, combined with Amelié’s evil little pixie side makes for a more mature film while still keeping its childhood innocence. Most of the characters are also distinctly unique, like the hypochondriac tobacconist and the old man who paints Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party once a year. Add the subplot of mystery regarding the man in all the photos and there’s a ton of stuff going on to keep the viewer’s fun at a maximum.
Only rarely does Amélie delve into silly-saccharine moments that cause eye rolls, but they’re quickly forgiven by the original storyline and character arcs that you look forward to following to the end. By far the best Jean-Pierre Jeunet film I’ve seen, Amélie is just plain different. Cute and sweet and funny, the film is quirky first, and romantic last, in the way Delicatessen is. It’s the kind of Romance film that a guy can tell his beer-guzzling, dart-playing mechanic friends about at a bar and not get beat-up for liking.
Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9
Overall Rating: 84% (You’re Destined To Love It)
Amélie’s subplot where her father’s garden gnome is stolen and travels around the world was inspired by true events, most notably the French group the 'Garden Gnome Liberation Front', which ‘liberated’ over 150 garden gnomes. It’s a very interesting story you can read all about right here.