“So, my little Amelie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete’s sake!” – Raymond Dufayel, Amelie (2001).
Given my audience is meandering pissants like yourself, I do think this will be my first and only foreign film review. God, I closed my laptop after writing that sentence and I feel quite bad for insulting my audience now. Not really, nobody reads this anyway. Aside from insulting my audience, I do like to write film reviews. Now because this is my first time reviewing a foreign film, I thought I’d keep it simple and do what I’ve done for literally every film now. Make vague comments about the film until I get bored, call it a day and watch a stand-up special on Netflix.
A while ago I took a look at the other work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet in the form of Alien: Resurrection (1997), a shaky yet serviceable action horror. His frequent acting collaborator, Dominique Pinon, makes another appearance in this film, again with a solid supporting role. The two definitely seem to work well together, with obviously strong performance and direction from the pairing. Audrey Tautou is a phenomenal actor and gives possibly the best leading performance I have seen from 2001 films. I always think it’s a rather difficult task to play a quirky and unique character such as Amelie, but Tautou brings about a truly commendable performance.
I feel that the only problem with her performance is that, when she’s paired with the love interest of the piece, her character begins to falter. Don’t get me wrong, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) is an excellent character and the portrayal is an enjoyable one. But for me it would have worked better as an intricate story if handled with similar care to the other subplots of the rest of the cast. Joseph (Dominique Pinon) has a phenomenal character arc, showing how love can impact a stalker, but in the end it doesn’t matter because it’s not the main focus of the piece. If the main focus of the piece isn’t able to stand up to that of the other plots, then what is really the point of this plot being the main focus?
An example of this is pretty clear in the dynamic between Collignon (Urbain Cancelier) and Amelie, with her meddling and sociopathic nature coming into full play. She breaks into his home and begins to make tiny changes that will make Collignon’s life eventually unbearable. For example she changes his slippers for an identical looking pair, however too small a size for his feet. Scenes like this are common and always handled with enough care to make it enjoyable. The side characters are, unfortunately, often more interesting than the main feature of this film. Now that isn’t because of the lacking performances, it’s simply because the smaller characters are handed more interesting characters.
To say I enjoyed the direction of Jeunet in this film is truly an understatement. He’s basically the French Wes Anderson. His use of colour and masterful utilisation of the camera is something that should be appreciated by every viewer. Jeunet’s direction is both visually stunning and integral to the tale he tells. However, there’s only so much you can do with direction, you need a decent story and an enjoyable cast. Luckily this film does provide such good acting and entertaining story telling. For me, a film can only be as good as its script, but with an obvious language barrier in the way, I feel the need to judge this film without looking too much into the story.
See the problem with looking into the story is that you look for too long and realise it is generic. It’s just another romance story but the only difference is I can’t understand a word they’re saying. All I can muster is that this is yet another romance comedy where two irreverent sociopaths end up together. To be fair the subplots that weren’t related to this part of the film were much better. For example, the subplot between the relationship of Amelie and her father was superb and possibly one of the best bits of the film. The travelling gnome was both hilarious yet touching in an oddly disturbing way.
Although the story is lacking to some degree, Jeunet makes up for this with his stellar direction. The way he blocks a scene and his craft behind the camera is truly phenomenal. Although he manages some excellent work at the start and during the scene, but the endings are very hit or miss. This can definitely be seen in the introduction of Amelie’s family. The opening and chunk of the scene is great, with some brilliant mixes of direction, acting and writing throughout. But then it just ends, with no real relation to the plot, thus making the scene forgettable at best.
This was a difficult watch for me. Not just because I can’t watch a moving picture and read at the same time. I dropped French at GCSE after five years of pursuing the subject and never being able to learn a single word. It’s a dead language anyways, it’s like Battleships, nobody uses that shit anymore. Anyways, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Amelie is a really good foreign film, in fact as far as regular films go it is stunning. On the levels of Wes Anderson, the film finds its footing extremely quickly in an enjoyably comfortable runtime. But what it has in colourful flair and direction, it lacks in a cognitive narrative, opting for a traditional and awkwardly cliche romance subplot.
Still, thanks to a phenomenal cast and a stellar bit of direction from Jeunet, Amelie swiftly becomes a timeless classic that should be one of those films you watch as soon as possible. Direction is key to artistic and specifically emotive films such as this, and Jeunet understands this fully. It’s what makes Amelie such an enjoyable film. Jeunet suffers from the same problems Anderson does. His direction takes centre stage over the plot and development of the film. But considering the plot isn’t all that interesting, I’ll take Jeunet’s direction over that plot any day.