Amélie (2001) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): This charming quirky girl

What a charming comedy film “Amélie” is. Constantly buoyed by its vibrant wit, style, and imagination, this quirky French crowd-pleaser, which is re-released in South Korean theaters in this week, is still lovable and admirable for its numerous funny offbeat moments to be savored more than once, and it is always entertaining to watch how it cheerfully and mischievously bounces from one narrative point to another along with its undeniably fetching heroine.

Audrey Tautou, who had a major career breakthrough thanks to the considerable critical and commercial success of the film inside and outside France, plays Amélie Poulain, a likable young woman who has somehow maintained her plucky spirit well despite her rather unhappy childhood period. As shown from the opening part of the movie, she grew up under the parents who were not very sunny or cheerful to say the least, but she was daunted by that at all, and the omnipresent narrator of the film phlegmatically describes a number of variously amusing incidents around her – including her frigid mother’s hilariously morbid death.

Anyway, Amélie eventually leaves her hometown several years later, and then she comes to settle in a neighborhood of Montmartre, Paris while working as a waitress in a small local cafe, which is frequently filled with a number of different eccentric people. For example, there is a rather creepy guy who is still obsessed with his ex-girlfriend who is incidentally another waitress in the cafe, and the growing tension between him and his ex-girlfriend has been a constant source of amusement for others in the cafe.

Meanwhile, something unexpected occurs on one day in Amélie’s little solitary private life. She happens to discover a little metal box hidden behind a wall in her apartment, and, as looking over a number of old items stored inside that metal box, she cannot help but become curious about who owned it several decades ago. Although she usually prefers to be alone, she is often curious about how others are living in the city, and there is a little funny moment when she simply wonders about how many people are having orgasm right now.

The movie subsequently follows Amélie’s search for the owner of that metal box. Although her search seems to be going nowhere at first, she finally finds its real owner thanks to one of her neighbors, who kindly corrects a little but crucial mistake in her ongoing search process. I will not go into details on what she will do next, but I can tell you at least that you will be quite amused by how she gives that metal box back to the owner while also touched a lot by how much that emotionally affects the owner.

After that point, Amélie decides to do more good things to others around her, and the screenplay by Guillaume Laurant, which is based on the story written by him and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, generates lots of humor and warmth from how its heroine has some fun from a number of sneaky but well-intentioned deeds. For instance, she indirectly functions as a sort of matchmaker between that creepy dude and a grumpy hypochondriac woman running a cigarette shop in the cafe, and that eventually leads to one of the most uproarious moments in the film. In addition, she commits several mischievous things to a local grocer after watching this guy blatantly bullying his timid assistant as usual, and that indirectly helps the assistant having a bit more confidence and self-esteem than before.

However, Amélie turns out to be not that good at helping herself. When she comes across a lad named Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) at the train station, she is instantly attracted to him, but he seems to be more interested in his little hobby during their accidental encounter, and that certainly lets her down a lot. Not long after that, she embarks on trying to get to know more about him and then attract his attention, but she only finds herself hesitating more, even though she comes to get more than one chances to reveal herself to him.

While there is naturally some suspense on whether our heroine will cross the line to get closer to Nino or not, the movie remains to be lightweight as before, and Jeunet, who has been known for several stylish offbeat works such as “Delicatessen” (1991) and “The City of the Lost Children” (1995), and his crew members including cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel keep delighting us with colorful mood and details to be cherished. Besides being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the movie garnered four other nominations including the ones for Best Production Design and Best Cinematography Oscar, and it is quite impressive in technical aspects. Thanks to its distinctive mood and style, the movie steadily engages us from the very beginning, and we gladly go along with numerous quirky moments in the film.

Above all, the movie depends a lot on Tautou’s natural charm and presence. Her performance here in this film is still one of the best ones in her long movie acting career, and she is also supported well by a bunch of interesting performers including André Dussollier, Dominique Pinon, Yolande Moreau, Jamel Debbouze, and Mathieu Kassovitz, an actor/director who is mainly known for his electrifying crime drama film “La Haine” (1995).

On the whole, “Amélie” remains quite fun and enjoyable although 20 years have passed since it came out, and it is surely one of the highlights in Juenet’s idiosyncratic filmmaking career. Although things have recently been less positive for him, he is currently working a film to be released by Netflix at least, and I sincerely hope that it will be as charming as “Amélie”.

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