[Contains suicidal goldfish and SPOILERS!!!]
To my eternal shame, I didn’t go to see Amélie (aka: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) (2001) when it was first released at the cinema… I was put off by all the hype, along with my own ill-informed assumption that it was twee twaddle, and didn’t discover my error until years later, when it was shown on TV, and I experienced a heart-and-soul-warming epiphany, similar to the ones experienced by several characters in the film itself.
As with A Very Long Engagement, a simple plot summary could never convey the charm and, yes, magic of the overall viewing experience, which has as much to do with the music, cinematography, set-design, costuming, humour, and playful puzzling, as it does with the actual story… but, for the sake of those who’ve yet to have the pleasure, Amélie centres on an introverted Parisian waitress who slowly emerges from her shell, after deciding to secretly help the lost and lonely people around her find happiness, like a whimsical ninja. Along the way, she stumbles across a potential soul-mate, and sets about slyly flirting with him from what she considers a safe distance, prompting her new friends and colleagues to treat her to a little of her own well-intentioned-but-meddling medicine.
Needless to say, Audrey Tautou is absolutely adorable in the title role, grinning straight down the barrel of the camera with conspiratorial glee, and finding the perfect balance between spirit, shyness, and self-pity. She also rocks possibly the greatest hairstyle in cinematic history, along with a gorgeous vintage-boho wardrobe that has left me with a peculiar fetish for women who wear soft brown jackets (see also Daisy’s coat in Spaced). My next favourite cast member would have to be Isabelle Nanty, who plays ‘Georgette’, a hypochondriac cigarette-seller at the café where Amélie works… and it’s to the film’s credit that her character still winds up unhappy at the end, despite the waitress’s “stratagem” to set her up with Dominique Pinon’s possessive patron. Writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet may have adopted a romantic and fantastical style here, but he doesn’t drown everything in treacle, or shy away from the issue of sexuality… besides Georgette and Joseph’s noisy bathroom hook-up, there’s also the revelation that Amélie’s love-interest works part-time in a sex shop, spending his afternoons chatting with strippers and pricing dildos. For all its quirky cuteness, this is still a story about hot-blooded lovers and haters… so beneath all the arty artifice and clockwork camera-moves, there’s still a lot of very human messiness and misery.
A few years back, I would have confidently asserted that Amélie was my number-one favourite film of all time… and… er… yeah, I’d probably still say that today, too! It’s my dream to visit Paris someday*, and you can bet that the “Café des 2 Moulins” where so many scenes from this film were shot will be top of my list of intended destinations… along with the police station from Spiral (assuming that really exists and I can ever find it)…
* It’s only six hours away by train, so I really should have made the effort already… but I don’t want to go alone, and I don’t want to go until I’ve learned (or re-learned) enough of the language to be able to get around with relative grace.