Amélie (2001)

Rated R for sexual content.

Starring Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Claire Maurier.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Written by Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Distributed by Miramax Zoe.
122 minutes.

Photo ©Miramax Zoe. All rights reserved.

A Cutie Will Lead Them

I'm Jeffrey Chen. I like staring at the ocean. I like a good chicken fried steak. I like to get up early on weekend mornings just to watch a DVD. I don't like the sound of a rock scraping on concrete.

Amélie, a French romantic comedy by The City of Lost Children director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, begins with these kinds of simplicities. A narrator lists non-related simultaneous events. Characters are introduced along with their likes and dislikes. And although events threaten to get a bit complicated during the course of the movie, it ultimately ends on the same note -- that simplicity is the way to go.

Here is a movie lightweight and fanciful, constructed and presented as a fable, and filled with quirky characters, not the least of which is Amélie herself, played by Audrey Tautou. She's a woman who is very much in to the world as she sees it and defines it, that is, through her childlike eyes and with her naive concepts of good and bad. When not working at a cafe, she moderately indulges in the things she likes to do, but she hasn't felt fulfilled in life. An inspiration strikes her on the day Princess Diana's death is announced. Compelled to do a secret good deed for a stranger, she decides that if his reaction is positive, she will devote herself to doing more secret good deeds. But will she do a good deed for herself when she takes interest in a young man she often spots at a photo booth? If Amélie were writing this review, I can already see the knowing look she'd be giving, as if to say, "we shall see." It would be cute.

In fact, "cute" is the primary word to describe this film. Everything about it is cute. Tautou as Amélie is extremely cute, always giving the viewer smiling glances, punctuating her activities with little dramatic touches, looking shy and nervous as she awaits the outcomes of her handiwork. Jeunet unapolegetically runs with this style, almost turning the movie into something that one might expect to see when crossing "Ally McBeal" with Chungking Express. Watch inanimate objects come to life, funny characters appear out of nowhere, and Amélie melt in to water. Take the cutesy glee of Chungking Express's Faye Wong when she commits apartment break-ins and confounds her love interest, and watch as similar strokes are applied to a French movie.

Amélie is not without its flaws, the most notable of which is a pacing flaw -- the middle section takes a little too long, and some parts threaten to lose the viewer's interest, especially after such a briskly-paced and eye-catching opening. Thankfully, it picks up again as it heads for the finish. Also thankfully, it has Tautou. Any viewer sans a low tolerance for cuteness will find her absolutely engaging.

At the end, there is that message of simplicity. A number of characters find happiness thanks to Amélie, who sets them on their way to making the simple decisions for themselves that lead to said happiness. Later on, she'll have to learn this lesson for herself. It's as if the film is saying that with adulthood comes inhibition, weariness, and self-defeat. Isn't that sad? If your inner child likes ice cream, why not just go and buy yourself an ice cream? Just don't scrape any rocks on the concrete on your way to the parlor.

Rating: 8/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Nov. 21, 2001

An edited version of this review appears at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.

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