Monday, January 30, 2012

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001)

The first time I watched Amélie, it was during its theatrical run while on break from school and I was overwhelmingly charmed by the film, taken by its story of a spirited, but terribly shy, introvert who works to change the lives of others and discovering that she needs the same courage for herself. Perhaps I connected with it on a much more personal level due to my own tendency towards social withdrawal, but I was also impressed with the aesthetic and style of the film, which fit in well with its idealistic and magical tale.

The titular character (Audrey Tautou) is a shy, but whimsical, young woman who works at a bar and leads a quiet life of tiny pleasures, but happening upon a box of "treasure" hidden in her apartment by a boy half a century ago, she discovers a joy in clandestinely working to fix the problems of those around her. However, in her adventures, she encounters the similarly quirky Nino (Mathieu Kossovitz) and discovers that, despite her clever plans and pranks, she's unable to help herself open up to him.

What I really like about the story here is how well Amélie's character is developed and the mirror-like construction of her character's desire to meddle with others but needing to work on her own problems the most. I also like that the film successfully creates angst as an impediment for her and creates a provocateur/antagonist/mirror in her neighbor, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), the painter of brittle bones. The script is also quite clever, creating a lot of threads and following up with them later in the film for the sake of characterization. But what convinces me most is, despite the magical realism of the film, the reality of Amélie's struggle to connect with others and her retreat into fantasy to avoid her fear.

Accordingly with the magical realism of the story, the film is highly stylized, from the frequent quirky and comical narrative breaks, including a hefty and amusing opening sequence, to the look of the film, set in a magical, quaint version of Paris. Jean-Pierre Jeunet uses his particular stylistic sensibilities well, especially his comic tendencies, crafting an almost magical world of peculiar characters and bathing the film in tinted color to complement the sensibility of the film, reflected deep into the art and production of the film, like Amélie's red and green apartment. Of course, Tautou must also be mentioned, excellently willing into being the deconstructed pixie of her character and the supporting actors helping to make the world consistent. Finally, there's a lovely soundtrack that also works well with the film's whimsical tone.

It's because every element in the film works so well together to tell Amélie's story, from the plotting, characterizations and side stories, to the production, design, direction and performances, that I find myself equally impressed every time I see Amélie. And while there are some issues with contrivances, because of the near-magical nature of the story I never feel bad letting that slide. Amélie became a favorite of mine the first time I saw it and this recent viewing confirms my affinity for it. Still magical, still a favorite. 10/10.

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