Released:  2001

Cast:  Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Serge Merlin, Clotilde Mollet, Claire Maurier, Isabelle Nanty, Dominique Pinon

Oscar Nominations:  Best Foreign Language Film (France), Best Original Screenplay (Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet), Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel), Best Sound (Vincent Arnardi, Guillaume Leriche, Jean Umansky), Best Art Direction (Aline Bonetto, Marie-Laure Valla)

SUMMARY:  As a child, Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) was homeschooled, as her father (though not a doctor) diagnosed her as having a heart defect.  As a result, she grew up isolated and rather lonely, although she had a vivid imagination.  When Amelie was six, her mother was killed in a freak accident; her father (Rufus), already introverted, retreated even farther from society.  As soon as she was old enough, Amelie moved into her own apartment and got a job waitressing at a small café.  Due to her upbringing, Amelie is also rather introverted, and her world consists primarily of the café and her apartment building, and the people in them, whom she enjoys studying.   In August of 1997, Amelie learns that Princess Diana has died in a car accident.  She drops an object in her hand, which rolls into the bathroom and dislodges a tile.  When she pulls the tile out, Amelie finds a hole that contains a small metal box containing several child’s trinkets.  After some consideration, Amelie decides to track down the owner and return the box.  From other local tenants, she is able to learn the name of the family that lived in the apartment in the 50s, but it is only after she meets her neighbor, the “Glass Man”, that she is able to locate the correct person.  The Glass Man, whose name is Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), has extremely brittle bones:  as a result, he wears thick padding at all times, and has padded the objects in his apartment.  His primary occupation is painting a copy of a Renoir painting, which he does every year.  With his help, Amelie locates the right man, and anonymously returns the box, while observing his reaction from nearby.  The man is touched at the memories and feelings the box brings back, and vocally resolves to make amends with his estranged daughter.  For her part, Amelie is so touched that she decides to do the same type of thing for other people.

Amelie begins surreptitiously influencing the lives of nearly everybody around her.  She begins simply, by helping a blind man across the street while describing everything she sees, but her schemes becomes more complex.  Her father has always wanted to travel (but is too cautious), so Amelie steals his garden gnome, gives it to an airline stewardess friend, and has her take pictures of the gnome in front of various landmarks, which are then sent (anonymously) to her father.  At the café, she sets up neurotic tobacco-counter worker Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) with the obsessive ex-husband of another waitress.  Posing as the woman’s husband, she writes a letter to her landlady, pretending that the man regretted his decision and intended to return to her before he was killed.  The local grocer, who loves to verbally abuse his assistant, also lives in the building:  Amelie sneaks into his apartment and begins changing things around until the man starts to believe that he is going crazy, and cedes most of the business operations to his assistant.  Amelie also continues to visit Dufayel, and in conversations about the painting, they discuss Amelie’s life.  Meanwhile, Amelie has happened across a young man named Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), who likes to rescue torn-up pictures from photo booths and reassemble them.  As she learns more about him (from afar), Amelie begins to fall for him.  The two begin communicating back and forth through riddles (mostly orchestrated by Amelie), but when it comes time to meet face to face, Amelie chickens out.  Luckily, fellow waitress Gina (Clotilde Mollet) sees what is happening, and makes sure Nino is okay.  However, Amelie believes that the two are in a relationship, and is devastated.  Dufayel has been observing Amelie in all her exploits, and now he gives her a taste of her own medicine.  He orchestrates things so that Nino shows up at her apartment, and sends her a video message of encouragement.  Finally, Amelie works up the courage to go after Nino.

MY TAKE:  The first time I saw this movie, I actually only saw the first few minutes, and I found them very off-putting, due to the rather explicit sexual references (Amelie’s conception, her previous boyfriends, wondering about how many couples are having orgasms).  This might have been in part because of my age, but ten years later, I’ve watched it again and still found it rather unnecessary.  Luckily, I kept watching, because it really is a pretty good movie.  Amelie is an odd duck, surrounded by some strange people, and Nino is even odder than she is, but somehow everything works together, and becomes very charming.  It’s fun to watch Amelie as she makes things happen for people, usually to make them happy but occasionally to teach them a lesson.  She’s very quiet, so people almost don’t notice her, but she’s sneaky and smart, and that helps her a lot.  Perhaps that’s why I found her various exploits so entertaining:  I’m like her in that we don’t usually do sneaky things, but when we do, we’re very good at them.  In particular, I got a kick out of her tormenting the grocer and the pictures of the gnome that were sent to her father.  The poor man just cannot figure out what is going on.  Maybe that’s where the Travelocity gnome idea came from?  Personally, if I started getting pictures of a gnome in the mail, even if it was my gnome, I’d probably think I was being stalked.  To even more hilarity, she really works the grocer into a tizzy.  She gets him so twisted up that he stops sleeping at night, which is sort of cruel but still funny.  The interesting thing is that as she is doing all of this, Dufayel is watching her.  He’s the one that finally proves to be the catalyst for her and Nino, since Amelie repeatedly chickens out of saying something.  Again, I would probably think he was nuts in real life, but in this movie he’s quirky and endearing.  There were a couple other occasions where there were casual (but explicit) sexual references that I could really have done without — not to mention that they were completely unnecessary to the plot — but overall it’s a very nice movie.

Fun fact:  If you don’t already know, Audrey Tautou would sort of resurface years later, as Tom Hanks’ costar in The Da Vinci Code.

RATING:  Endearing — it’ll make you happy.


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