Overview: A doe-eyed, naive young woman finds love amidst her clever schemes at arranging happiness and justice for those around her. 2001; Rated R; 122 Minutes.
A Star: Recalling the wonderment in expression from Giulietta Masina’s Gelsomino (La Strada) (and by currency, channeling the charm of Chaplin’s tramp who makes a sly appearance), Audrey Tautou haunts every scene with disarming presence. Tautou is a seraph, a pixie. With the hinge of her jaw slightly askew, her natural expression is a lightly crooked, scheming grin. She is slight of frame but strong in posture when she walks, gliding, the way we might imagine fairies move. Her eyes naturally wide, the whites reveal themselves as crescent moons when her gaze shifts to any direction. But this is more than just appearances. As the narrative solicits belief in more and more unlikely occurrence, Tautou lends to Amélie the focus and balance of a hypnotist and we slowly fall under her spell.
Perspective (Take One): Amélie is a movie about perspective. Jean-Pierre Jeunet injects a strong voyeurism motif, wherein the act of watching is pivotal to every scene and character. Within the film’s first ten minutes, we learn that Amélie loves watching movie-goers behind her in theaters (a not-so-subtle suggestion the movie knows about us, the audience) and her imagination takes us into 17 bedrooms, where multiple couples’ reach orgasms that are synchronized by romantic odds. It continues. Through screens, windows, video cameras, and photo booths. Everyone is a spectacle and a witness. Including the camera, which is alive with our perspective, moving and shifting, hiding and chasing,spying on our behalf.
Perspective (Take Two): Amélie is a movie about perspective. It is a movie about how memory or emotion can make small things the important ones and turn historical events into background noise. A minor distraction leads Amélie to turn the off her television, muting the breaking news of Princess Diana’s death. But just a few scenes later, a young boy’s memory of losing toy marbles is given the treatment of epic film tragedy (black and white cinematography, a piano score, slow motion). When it’s over, we remember this to be a fairy tale of magic and miracles, but there isn’t anything specifically implausible happening here. The movie suggests that observing magic or miracles may just be a matter of contextualizing. Joy may just be a matter of amplification.
Forgiveness: At times, Amélie overspends its allowance of saccharine serendipity. Often, it feels like we’re catching the film batting its own eyelashes in a mirror, admiring its own cuteness. But if the greatest charge that we can leverage against Amélie is her attempt to be too sweet and too kind, I think we can let her go with just a warning. And she can keep the adoration she has stolen.
Grade: A –