out of five
: 120 mins
It’s a shame that the British distributors didn’t see fit to retain the
original, far superior rhyming couplet title of Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain – perhaps they thought so many French words together would frighten off British audiences.
At any rate, the film was a box-office smash in France and looks set to achieve the same success here, all of which would be entirely deserved, as Amélie is a truly wonderful film, the sort of film that re-establishes your faith in cinema.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (separated from his darker half, Marc Caro, Jeunet’s co-director on Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children), Amélie stars Audrey Tatou as a shy Parisian waitress who decides to do anonymous good deeds for her neighbours and co-workers.
However, when she falls in love with a man she’s never met (Mathieu Kassovitz’s Nino) she comes to realise that she has her own problems too.
Audrey Tatou is simply wonderful as Amélie, in a role that was originally intended for British actress Emily Watson - the script was written with her in mind and even named after her, but she pulled out at the last minute.
No matter though, because Tatou makes the part her own, playing Amélie as a sort of pixie-version of Audrey Hepburn, all wide-eyed and with a beautiful smile that suggests both innocence and mischief.
The film is absolutely packed full of ideas that come thick and fast in
non-stop succession, including a suicidal goldfish, a talking pig-shaped lamp, passport photos that offer conflicting advice, an imaginary monster and numerous other delights.
As befits such an unashamedly romantic fantasy, Jeunet has chosen to give the Parisian district of Montmartre a sort of dream-like quality, where the streets are always golden with sunlight and the sky is a deep blue.
(Unfortunately, he also received a critical lashing in some quarters for stripping Montmartre of its ethnic diversity, much as
the makers of the infinitely inferior Notting Hill did over here).
There are so many highlights and lovely scenes in the film that it’s hard to single them out. However, the first twenty minutes (briefly summarizing Amélie’s somewhat lonely childhood) are wonderful, setting the pace and the tone of the rest of the film.
Other highlights include: Jeunet’s self-confessed rip-off of his own ‘bedsprings’ sequence in Delicatessen; Amélie tormenting her mean neighbour; her fantasy sequence of what could have happened to Nino (almost a film in itself); and the mysterious global travels of a garden gnome.
In short, Amélie is a cinematic gem – there’s enough wit, invention, heart and romance here to single-handedly atone for the entire summer’s worth of sub-par movies.
It’s that rare thing, a true ‘feel-good’ movie that doesn’t pile on the schmaltz but instead sends you out of the cinema with a grin on your face and a warm, glowing feeling inside. Take your friends – take ALL your friends. This is a film to be shared. Highly recommended.