'Amélie' flirtatiously imparts love, humor
By Carolyn Johnson, Staff Writer
"Amélie" is coy, clever and cute; a fairy-tale movie that aims its gaze unwaveringly at you and then has the effrontery to smile trickily, insinuating nothing less than happiness. The original French title (it is subtitled) of the movie, ""Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain," portends more; it is a destiny for happiness that cannot, in spite of the most ardent efforts, be avoided.

Audrey Tautou plays Amélie, the pixie of the fable. The vibrant and imaginative heroine sees herself situated in a world empty of love and full of neuroses. With the light of her smile and the size of her heart, she will melt into connection with a real world in which people are emotionally fulfilled and magic reigns.

Amélie is constantly reminding both the other characters and the audience that happiness is the most natural state of being. Her smile itself is a kind of enchantment-there is a sense of real design about it; the plots she hatches apply not only to the story but also to the people who watch her on the screen. Paris is lovely, a fabulous fantasy-scape animated by a keen imagination and drenched in a light, misting hope.

The narrator doles out brilliantly timed, often hilarious assessments of each character's quirks in a celebratory tone. The movie begins and ends with his juxtaposition of unrelated, everyday details-an effect that helps maintain the quick pace and control of the narrator and the camera. The interaction between his quips and the camera's eye forms a light, cinematic poetry. A man erases a deceased friend's name from his address book and, at the same time, sperm and egg collide, producing Amélie Poulain.

The use of random events is strangely resonant, eschewing not a contrived synchronicity, but instead succeeding in situating us deep in an appreciative imagination. Amélie's mission--to improve the world by making these other people happy--begins on the day that Princess Diana dies. Surprised at the news, she drops the top of a perfume bottle.

When she stoops to pick it up, she discovers a niche where a boy hid vestiges of his childhood in an old tin box. She finds a roundabout way of returning the box to its owner and, in the process, comes into her first real contacts with the characters of the movie. She begins to care about others, to recognize their crippling obsessions and to cure them in increasingly complex ways. The problems themselves are straightforward and her solutions are never surprising, but the circuitous and playful method by which Amélie goes about fixing things is often humorous and surprising.

Lonely people populate the movie and, ultimately, it is the act of human contact that transforms the world. The magic is in the method, not the cure. Amélie's crush, Nino Quicampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz) hangs around ID picture machines; Amélie helps him find the man he is looking for. Amélie's landlady reads and rereads letters from her dead husband; Amélie creates a letter that says her husband loved her. Madeleine, the woman who works at the counter of Amélie's bistro, is a hypochondriac; she is promptly supplied with the obsessive love of a man. Dufayel, known as "the glass man" because his bones are so brittle that he never ventures outside, sits in his room and paints the same painting over and over, one each year.

He and Amélie become friends and discuss themselves abstractly by referring to a girl in the picture. He has never quite been able to capture her expression; she is never quite connected to the reality around her. Intellectually, none of the cures to these scenarios are a surprise and, in the hands of the wrong people, might result in a trite and monotonous film about do-gooding. However, the movie is never too goofy; it is well-crafted and it is both easy and pleasing to suspend disbelief.

In a fabulously depicted scene of self-pity, Amélie imagines herself dead at 23, mourned by all of Paris for the good she has done. And yet, she and we are aware that few will mourn her. She has helped others, but has taken no chances with her own feelings. She is impeccably endearing, yet highly regulated. Her world is fabulous, but lives inside of her. It is not until she abandons herself to the love that she has stitched into other people's lives that Amélie can truly live and by the final scenes she is no longer mired in the happiness in her head but ready to expel it.

Amélie is mischievous and the movie is an intricate invention. It is certainly not an intellectual or cogitative work, nor does it claim to be based in reality. Amélie's smirk can be a source of both joy and discomfort to an audience that fears being manipulated, an act this movie commits playfully and unabashedly. It is mainly because of its eccentricity that "Amélie" brims with delight and it should produce nothing less than joy for the audience.

Issue 00, Submitted 2001-11-28 17:23:02