Amélie (2001)


“It’s better to help people than garden gnomes.”

Justin’s rating: I’m still no closer to learning fluent French than when I first started watching this movie.

Justin’s review: I was at a karaoke bar the other day, and it was amusing to watch the female emcee there. Obviously sick of running the show day after day, she lept on stage with wide-open eyes and a grin that reminded both me and my compatriots of a shark. It was obviously her Game Face, and it freaked me out. “We’re gonna need a bigger mike!” People who don’t stop smiling can be just as unnerving — if not more — than eternally sour-faced folks.

Amélie, the titular character in this acclaimed French film, doesn’t strike me as a real person so much as one of those life coach androids that one of us earthers must teach to laugh and love. Due to some oddly underbearing parents, she’s developed a game face that suggests BEAMUSEMENT and WHIMSY in so many capital letters. After a stunning revelation that doing good things for others makes you feel good, Amélie launches a self-propelled quest to be a puppet master in others’ affairs.

If the android comparison doesn’t work for you, then try something more renaissance festival-like, say, a pixie. Amélie is an amusing character to watch, because she’s somehow detached herself from reality. Floating around on her wee pixie wings, she watches the world from another plane, sort of seeing it through a drug-induced haze. The first thing that should clue you into this is that Paris is seen as an idyllic sparkling resort, where there is naught a hint of traffic, refuse, or people spitting on foreigners who attempt to speak French. Then, if you’re so dense to not see the ecstasy running through her veins, the pictures on the wall start conversing with each other.

Amélie is obviously having the time of her life. In one of the film’s funniest moments, she experiments with sex but has to forcibly hold back laughter because she finds the grunts and faces silly. So as some sort of android pixie nun, Amélie looks to the unnoticed to keep her occupied and entranced. These include the daily soap opera habits of her diner’s inhabitants, skipping stones on a pond, an abusive fruit vendor, and a hidden treasure box she discovers in her bathroom. Going about her day, she meddles in other people’s lives to her heart’s content, which would be extremely disturbing had she been an old hag with warts everywhere.

But, of course she’s not. She’s a waif (an android pixie nun waif) with big, expressive eyes, the sort that can club any half-witted man into everlasting servitude. Yet Amélie has yet to discover true love for herself. It’s supposed to be the irony of the film; as much happiness as she gives others, she has little for herself. Yeah, okay, sure. Big eyes and a French accent will net you as many men as your net can hold, so she only has her neurotic self to blame for this isolation.

Amélie is a fairly good film. Like croissant, it’s all flaky and tasty, but there’s really little there. It’s more like a series of scenes designed to make us think that there’s something deeper to it all, but the movie is as vapid as the deep thought that goes on behind Amélie’s game face. Maybe it’ll make you want to do Good Things for Others too, but just be careful not to imitate Amélie too closely; from kidnapping to breaking and entering, she has the burgeoning heart of a career criminal.

An android pixie nun waif criminal, to be exact.

Clare’s rating: I may be strung up by my toes for saying this in these tense geo-political times, but I like French cinema. I also like French fries, French toast, French vanilla coffee creamer and French kissing. And I’m pissed that American Idol kicked that Frenchie girl off the show.

Clare’s review: Le Fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain (retitled “Amelie” for us non-Frenchies) is written and directed by one Mr. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a gentleman responsible for pleasing me to no end by creating (writing and directing) two of my favorite movies, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. These movies have a visual appeal and a narrative style that I find extremely interesting, off the beaten path and invigorating. Other people find them, well, extremely French. Jeunet isn’t particularly interested in what’s REAL when he makes movies. He’s interested in what LOOKS GOOD and what best portrays his often off-kilter version of time, place, mood and emotion. Amelie then, isn’t to be watched under the guise that it’s some sort of traditional narrative. It’s a live action fairy tale. It’s a fantasy. It’s a story told by a character who lives entirely within her own imagination. And it is, yes, extremely, extremely French.

I got into this movie within the first minute. Which is kind of rare for me. Generally I watch an entire film before I can really assess whether I think it’s worthwhile or not. But with Amelie, I decided really early on that even if the story didn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, the imagery, the cinematography, the editing, the dialogue, the acting, the lighting, the set design, the art direction and the costumes would be rich enough a source of entertainment for me to really enjoy myself. Turns out, not too surprisingly, that the story, while a little turned around in places, and sometimes sort of hard to follow (again, it’s French), was, in the end, extremely well executed and I found, very romantic, funny, touching, telling and wonderful in a really non-annoying, non-bullsh** Hollywood happy-ending kind of way.

Obviously if you don’t dig movies with subtitles or if you prefer your movies on the rough and gritty side, don’t rent Amelie. But if you’re up for trying something a little different and are willing to try to take in as much of the scenery as you can, I’d highly, HIGHLY recommend this film. I’ve seen it twice now and I have to say that repeated viewing is also recommended. Because the first time through you’re paying attention mostly to the story and the pacing and trying to keep all the characters straight. The second (or third or fourth) time, you can relax a little and really pay attention to the smaller details that are used to help tell the story. I liked this movie a lot the first time I watched it. I decided I loved it the second time through. Maybe you will too.

Poolman’s rating: If you’ll ever believe in two characters finding love onscreen, this will be it.

Poolman’s review: Every once in a while, I read one of Justin’s much-vaunted reviews, and I catch myself in a state of utter confusion. His review for Amelie, above, is kind of the Bizzaro-Poolman review. We’re watching the same movie, noting the same points, but what seems to me to be wonderful somehow seems to turn him right off. Why is it, Justin? WHY CAN’T YOU JUST FEEL THE LOVE?!? Oh why did our mother keep me, and throw you to those circus clowns?!?

Ahem… excuse me. Amelie. Yes.

Excellent points have been made by my good friends before me. Fairy tale. French. Pixie. Android (?). It’s all true. But what will never come across in a review is just how very much more than a simple sum these parts all add up to be. This is a movie that just lets you feel, if you want to.

All right, let me back up. The story of Amelie is really, really basic. There’s this girl (go ahead, try and guess her name) who grows up almost completely alone. No friends, distant from her one surviving parent, Amelie simply grows up introverted and shy, unable to find love, but not really minding. She just is who she is. Through the magic of green camera filters and nuclear blind men, she decides to do as many good deed for others as possible after restoring a lonely man’s childhood and family following an accident and a little sleuthwork.

What becomes obvious is that while she genuinely enjoys what she gives to others, she still hasn’t opened herself up to the world and what it has in store for her. She becomes attracted to a mysterious man who gropes under mall photo booths for torn up pictures, and finds herself torn between continuing to hide herself away and finally experiencing love for another human being.

I can’t hide that I love this movie. I tromped over half of Quebec on a vacation looking for a copy of the European DVD last year, and was thrilled when a mainstream release finally came out a few months ago. I’ve seen it half a dozen times already, and I don’t think that’s the limit by a long shot. It really is a movie that you’ll watch again and again, noticing things you never saw before, but still be able to see it like it’s the first time.

Subtitles be damned. You should see this. It’s simple, stylized, and strange, and you may not have the same taste for it that I do, but see it once. Then you can decide whether to see it another hundred times.

She’s Smurfette! I knew it!


  • Whoa, a live birth during the opening credits… eww
  • Amélie’s face while having sex… best sex face ever
  • When the paintings start talking, we’ve reached a new level of bizarre
  • Diana, Princess of Wales, died on the morning of August 31, 1997, not August 30
  • In the opening credits, Amélie as a child is shown doing various things. If you give a careful look at these activities, you’ll find they illustrate the credits shown at the same time.
  • The part of Amelie was originally meant for Emily Watson. She wanted the part but had to decline because she didn’t speak French and had already agreed to be in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park.

Groovy Quotes

Narrator: [about the goldfish] Amélie has one friend, Blubber. Alas, the home environment has made Blubber suicidal. [The goldfish jumps out of the bowl]

Cafe Guy: 12:15 — laughs orgasmically to attract alpha male.

Amélie: It’s better to help people than garden gnomes.

Amélie: A least, you can’t be a vegetable, because even a artichoke has heart.

Amélie: [whispering in theater] I like to look for things no one else catches. I hate the way nobody ever looks at the road in old movies!

Hipolito: Without you, today’s emotions would be the scurf of yesterday’s.

Narrator: She amuses herself with silly questions about the world below, such as, “How many people are having an orgasm right now?”.
[various, ahem, scenes pass by]
Amélie: Fifteen!

Narrator: With a prompter in every cellar window whispering comebacks, she people would have the last laugh.

If you liked this movie, try these:


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