Right outside the theater, we had a "discussion" (if you can call it such) about the movie and what it "meant." One guy dismissed it as a chick flick right off the bat (okay, so he called it "a woman's movie"). The other man scorned this idea and thought he had it nailed: he claimed the film's theme was "carpe diem" and that it spent way too much time reiterating said theme. As a "chick," I can probably get away with telling you that it's definitely both, and more. "Amelie's" utter romanticism (and please don't be nitpicky about my use of that word in this context :p) and joye de vivre takes "Ally McBeal" like cuteness to a whole other level (not to mention a more palatable level). Yes, its messages are somewhat simplistic. Seize the day, better to get hurt than not love at all, go forth and do good deeds, etc. And yes, the film does harp on these themes a bit too much. Towards the end of the movie I was anxious for Amelie to get it over with already. The circumstances Amelie is thrust into are somewhat predictable and inexplicable.
But now we come to the saving graces. First and foremost I most mention Audrey Tautou. She is to the role as, well I dunno, Harrison Ford is to Han Solo, Audrey Hepburn is to Eliza Doolittle. List numerous other cliches here. The point is the film would not be the same without Tautou as Amelie. She is 150% perfect for the role. I know I'm being repetitive, but I cannot tell you how germane this fact is to the success of the film. Without Tautou's dimples, her secretive glances, her expressive eyes and looks of childlike wonder, the character would not be convincing or sympathetic. After all, Amelie is someone who could not relate to the rest of humanity. It was up to Tautou to make her accessible to us. The cast of eccentric characters who surround Amelie are just as important to the film's success. Especially worth mentioning are Yolande Moreau as Amelie's lonesome concierge, Dominique Pinon as Joseph the obsessive ex-lover, and Isabelle Nanty as Georgette the hypochondriac. The film is not realistic drama. These people do not exist in real life. Amelie does not exist in real life. As ludicrous as they are, these characters help bring a fantasy world to life, a world in which the characters are exaggerated versions of ourselves, whether we like it or not. This isn't a world for the unimaginative. It's perhaps unfair to compare director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's techniques to those from "Ally McBeal," but that is where we've seen them before ... inner emotions manifested visually. The difference is, of course, that Jeunet does not rely solely on the realm of fantasy. They complement Amelie's sensibilities and lend the film its magical, dream-like qualities, but the film is also based on heartfelt, "real" emotions. The film (and Tautou) make Amelie's feelings palpable: her longing, her joy, her mischief. And I revelled in that. For while Amelie's humor, whimsy, and visual escapades make it a sunny cinematic treat, ultimately it affects us because of how it makes us feel. I was simultaneously charmed and exasperated by the film's singlemindedness. It's not the most complex of films, but it made me smile.
Maybe that's because I'm a "chick," but whatever.
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 1/18/02)