At the core of it’s beating red heart, Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) is a charmingly simple “boy meets girl” love story enveloped by a mesmerizing scavenger hunt full of deliciously small details. Small, specific details like the puckering of fingers when in the bathtub too long. Or clingy wet swim trunks. Or delightful little details like removing dried glue from your finger. Or skipping stones across the creek. Amelie contains endless details like these that are so particular and full of life that they end up being the most universal moments of the entire film.
These unforgettable details ultimately create a colorful menagerie of indelible characters, all of which seem fully realized and perfectly aligned within the film’s sparkling daydream-like tone. Most memorably, of course, is the titular character of Amelie herself, played by Audrey Tautou, who is so effin’ infectious she literally makes me want to the learn the entire French language if only so I’d be able to write this article in the movie’s native tongue. Speaking of, there is a lot of dialogue and a lot of voiceover, which, if you’re NOT fluent in French, results in a lot of reading instead of watching. This takes away from the impressive visual style and the kinetic energy given by the camera’s smooth moves, and because the cinematography is so strong, it may warrant repeat viewings.
With that said, just like Amelie herself, this movie is many things. It’s smart, mysterious, simple, complex, cute, mischievous, funny, sad, lovely, dark, light, and most important of all, full of heart and a contagious do-good attitude. All of which is enhanced by the movie’s central metaphor— Princess Dianna (takes place during the time of her death)— a powerful element that parallels not only the altruistic nature of Amelie, but also the spying, voyeuristic, reality TV, tabloid nature of our culture. This kind of obsession over other people’s lives rather than their own, is Amelie’s most obvious character flaw, thus commenting on one of the underlying messages: you can only live life vicariously through others to a certain degree. In other words, it’s fine to be inspired and influenced by people you admire, but at some point, you must take your life into your own hands. You can’t just live life vicariously through the traveling Gnome. No, you must travel the world yourself. You can’t just live life vicariously through Princess Dianna. No, you yourself must help others.
But there is an even more important message buried beneath the details of this endearing film. That vital message is this: “In such a dead world, Amelie prefers to dream.” This notion is especially important in today’s day and age, which is mired in downtrodden perspectives and economic turmoil, because no matter how awful or horrible the world may sometimes be, it’s your imagination and dreams that will set you free. But be warned, because while we may be able to lose ourselves in the tiny, little details of life as well as our dreams (allowing us a reprieve from the cruelty of the real world), it’s even more important to apply those dreams to reality. First you must dream. Than you must do.