Directed by: Jean Pierre-Jeunet
Written by: Guillaume Laurant & Jean Pierre-Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, and Clotilde Mollet
Deep despair, insightful narcissism, impossibly cultured people- these are all things associated with French cinema. Though our overseas friends gave us the new wave, these things rode the surf as well. American cinema has tried since the birth of the French new wave to implement it as carelessly as such French staples as Breathless and The 400 Blows. What a strange, wonderful phenomenon it is that French filmmaker Jean Pierre-Jeunet turns French cinema on its head yet again with Amélie.
Amélie is as free-spirited, uplifting, and gracious as the protagonist its title speaks of (Audrey Tautou). Rarely does a movie tackle optimism as straightforwardly as this, and it’s something new for the often dark and brooding films associated with French cinema. During its more than two hour run time, Pierre-Jeunet’s film manages to make a mundane, normal life seem enthralling thanks to a hilarious, charming and original screenplay and some of the best visuals the cinema has ever seen.
People sometimes forget that the movies, like photography, are largely a visual medium. Pierre-Jeunet gives this movie such style and pace that it moves along with no trouble at all. He cuts from black and white to flash-forwards, flashbacks, and impossibly beautiful scenery. Whether his protagonist is skipping stones, running through the city streets, or growing up as a child, the camera captures it with ease and beauty.
The main course of the film follows Amélie as she discovers an old box in her apartment and decides to return it to the owner. When she sees what joy it brings him, she decides to do this for more people. Along this free-spirited journey, she discovers that in helping everyone else, she has forgotten herself. I won’t spoil anymore, because the early charm will at times turn to quiet sorrow, and that’s when the movie further grips you. You initially set out watching it thinking there will be nothing but a beautiful journey into nothing. It is in that nothing that it finds its beautiful purpose.
Guiding us through the beautiful nothing into something is one hell of an actress. Audrey Tautou’s performance made her a star overseas for a reason. She hits all the right grace notes in her shy, good-hearted character. You will remember Amélie and her quest for happiness longer than any set of Best Picture nominees.
Watching this modern use of French new wave techniques used to convey such joy and perkiness, you see something new that the movies haven’t been to before. Leave it to the French to outdo themselves, and the American cinema to try and keep up. Watching Amélie, you forget how rarely we get to see such joy shown to us without violence, emotional or physical, there in between. This is a movie unafraid of sexuality, and has no choice but to wear its gigantic heart on its sleeve. Embrace it, for it is a gift of a movie we rarely get anymore.