From the Lumière brothers’ original cinématographe motion pictures, to the New Wave of the 1950s and 60s, France’s filmic output has made an undeniable contribution to European cinema. One recent film which carries on the unique artistry associated with France’s indigenous cinema industry is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 romantic comedy Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain).
Amélie tells the story of its eponymous heroine (Audrey Tautou), as she sets out to improve the lives of the people around her, whilst forgetting to concentrate on her own happiness. Although the plot may sound saccharine sweet, the film avoids the usual rom-com pitfalls thanks to Jeunet’s enchanting and eccentric direction, as well as a winsome lead performance from Tautou.
The film acts as a love song to Paris, romanticising even the darker parts of the city, from grim Métro stations to dingy sex shops. The people of Paris are as lovingly treated as the city itself; characters are introduced by a voiceover narrator announcing their likes, dislikes and unique idiosyncrasies, making them all seem charming despite their flaws.
Aesthetically striking, Amélie is shot in a rhapsody of reds and greens, and is steeped in a sense of fantasy borne from the lead character’s own whimsical nature. This is Paris through the eyes of a dreamer, and so the film features a host of playful quirks which bring the audience into Amélie’s imagination. The visual eccentricity is scored beautifully by Yann Tiersen’s delightful but occasionally melancholy soundtrack, which perfectly matches the film’s somewhat dreamlike quality.
This is a film which revels in the visual and aural possibilities of film. At one point, Amélie is shown guiding a blind man through the streets of Paris, describing to him the sights, sounds and smells around them as they pass, creating an image of the city he could never hope to experience on his own. It is as much a spectacle for the audience as it is for the man onscreen, evoking a sense of the real joy of cinema which is present throughout the film.
Despite its recentness, Amélie has already proven to have an enduring legacy. After making around $173 million at the worldwide box office, despite its modest $10 million budget, being nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two BAFTAs and even having a new species of frog named after its protagonist, it’s fair to say that Amélie is one of France’s most internationally successful films. Although it may not have the art cinema stature of Godard or Truffaut’s films, or as many awards as recent international hit The Artist, Amélie is a beautifully written and directed film, all pulled off with an undeniable amount of Gallic flair.