Review: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain
December 4, 2013 by SiouxsieSuitcase
This must the happiest film I’ve ever seen. It’s a simple sort of pleasure- childish, but not immature. I saw it about two years ago, and it instantly became one of my favourite films. I admit that Amélie isn’t a perfect film, but I feel it comes very close. Not only that, its warmth and joy is just too hard to resist.
The protagonist is a young woman named (surprisingly) Amélie Poulain. Because of her isolated childhood, Amélie doesn’t have many friends, and she’s pretty isolated. Still, she’s happy, taking pleasure in simple things, such as skipping stones and going to the cinema. Nothing eventful ever happens in her life, until one day the death of Princess Diana sets off a chain reaction which changes that forever. Finding a box filled with the toys and photographs of a young boy who used to live in her flat, Amélie decides to track him down and return it to him. If this makes him happier, she will dedicate her life to helping others in small ways. It does, and so she begins, discovering how to improve her own life in the process.
As you might have guessed, this film has the tendency to be a bit twee. These saccharine elements are definitely something that would put a lot of people off, and I’ll admit that at times it can try a little too hard, but for the most part, I think it worked. I really can’t stand false sentiment in fiction, and while there are moments of forced quirkiness, it makes up for that thanks to its sincerity. Forced eccentricity is easy to spot, and it’s the kind of thing that few people can tolerate. To me, Amélie came across as genuine. It is unbelievably sweet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (I think it’s important to keep a balance between extremely dark stuff and extremely light stuff), and it balances this out with plenty of dark humour. Some of the things Amélie does are downright illegal, and there’s actually a very funny scene where she ends up phoning a porn shop. (It makes sense in context.)
Amélie is a wonderful character. It’s undeniable that the Strange Girl trope has been used thousands of times in fiction (I’ve written about examples of them here on more instances than I can count), but she still comes across as fresh and original in spite of this. You can’t help but like her. She’s just like Bjork, except her name isn’t Bjork and she doesn’t come from Iceland. Amélie is one of the few shy characters in film who is portrayed in at least some way realistically. The roundabout way she tries to approach her love interest, Nino, is extremely accurate; she never actually manages to work up the courage to tell him she likes him face-to-face, or even to introduce herself. (This film is a delightful rarity in that it celebrates the quiet and introverted.) Audrey Tautou does a wonderful job of playing her. She slips into the character of Amélie as convincingly as Christopher Reeve did when playing Clark Kent in Superman.
Another thing I really love about Amélie is that she is a character that can stand on her own. Compare her to the title characters of Angel-A and Betty Blue. Both of those are excellent films, too, but their female leads are lacking in something. Angela and Betty are both defined by their roles as love interests. They are not the actual protagonists of their own films, and are only ever viewed through the eyes of their lovers. Their sexual aspects are exaggerated to an extreme level, because their main purpose is to provide escapism. (Though Betty Blue does deconstruct those escapist elements very harshly.) Amélie, too, is an escapist character, but in a different way. For all her strangeness, Amélie is still pretty normal, which is fitting for a Magic Realist film. She’s not some erotic fantasy figure, but she isn’t some innocent, virginal fantasy figure either; it’s mentioned that she has been in one or two relationships before, but they didn’t really work out for her. Amélie has to struggle to create her own happiness, as well as that of others. Angel-A, Betty Blue and Amélie are all fairy tales, but it’s only the last one that seems to truly embrace its true nature. In toning down the more adult elements, Amélie ends up being the most mature of them all. That isn’t to say that the other two are bad; I feel that Amélie has the strongest characters and plot (not to mention an amazing soundtrack) and Angel-A the best visuals and atmosphere, while Betty Blue is the best at telling its story overall.
I’m going to give Amélie 5/5. It may not be the best film ever, but it’s just so nice that I’d feel bad giving it anything else.