When Amelie was originally released it was described in the press as France’s answer to The Full Monty, being an enormously feel good movie and a massive international success. It strikes me as a bit of a bizarre comparison given how different the two films are though, and all they really have in common is their upbeat elements. The Full Monty was breezy fun, sure, but it’s nowhere near as affecting and heart warming as Amelie is, and it feels distinctly like a British movie whereas Amelie couldn’t be more French. It’s bathed in the kind of golden sunlight that you only ever see on film, features an utterly seducing tone, and a warmth which is so sweet that if you were to devour it you’d instantly become diabetic. But on this rare occasion it would without a doubt still be worth doing so.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jenuet this was his second solo effort after becoming famous with the films he co-directed with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and The City of The Lost Children, both are twistedly funny films but without Caro by his side he produced a far more touching and delightfully sweet movie. And okay, I’m ignoring Alien Resurrection here but I blame studio interference for that being such a mess, and there are signs of how good a movie it could have been if it hadn’t been screwed around with. Either way, by jettisoning the darkness it’s a far more appealing and lovable a movie than any of his previous works, though without such a winning performance from Audrey Tautou it wouldn’t be half the movie that it is, it’s a stunning piece of acting and she lights up the screen with the slightest hint of a smile.
The film opens with a brief description of Amelie’s early years, explaining the strange relationship she has with her parents, and by being utterly bizarre but subtly charming it grabs you instantly. Soon we’re presented with Amelie as a solitary twenty-something barmaid, working in a bar seemingly only ever frequented by two lonely men and the staff who are employed there. After she accidentally discovers a lost box of a former tenants’ childhood mementos in her apartment she seeks out it’s owner, and spurred on by the success of her good deed vows to continue anonymously helping friends, family and strangers. But when Amelie finds a photo album made of pictures discarded from station photo booths she begins to realise that she too has problems, and her self-imposed solitude may not be the right way to live.
It’s watching her selflessly help others and take such delight in it, the mix of magic realism and Jeunet’s gentle playing with cinematic conventions which seduced me completely. Her world is such a pure, kind place that it’s blissful to spend two hours in it – though, as the ending suggests, perhaps not a lifetime. When I first saw the film I was temping for a soul destroying motor finance company and in the foulest of moods, I’d struggled to not just leave the house but the comfort of my bed that day, but emerged from the cinema on a massive high, filled with optimism and joy for my fellow man and even the bastards I worked for. And not many films have ever managed that.
Okay, so you could make a few complaints – perhaps the movie could be ten minutes or so shorter in it’s middle section and some might say that Jeunet is too self-indulgent at times, but those whose hearts aren’t softened by the tenderness and kindness at the centre of this film, and react cynically to this rare piece of original cinema, should be pitied. Everyone else should watch it over and over again, especially in these trying times where the world is nowhere near as wonderful as Amelie’s.