Amèlie, the 2001 French movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet will certainly be noted in the history of cinema as one of the best successful films made in France in this decade. The film was a hit in France and got rave reviews but film courted controversy when it was not selected at Cannes Film Festival and some critics openly criticized the film, saying it did not represent contemporary and culturally diverse France and was too wrapped up in stereotypical ‘Frenchness’. The true success of a film is its box office performance and the fact that Amèlie was a runaway hit in France does speak volumes about the true French magic the film has managed to weave.
If one leaves aside the cultural baggage the film carries and looks exclusively at the storyline and cinematic representation, Amèlie comes across as an amazing tale of journey of a young girl who grows up in isolation, boredom and is wrapped up in her imaginative world in Paris. Her world is limited to her home, neighborhood and the place where she works as a waitress and this limited world becomes a playground for her imagination. French actress Audrey Tautou is brilliant as young protagonist.
Her imaginative journey begins when she discovers a box under loosened tiles of one her walls, belonging to a boy who lived there many years ago and Amèlie sets out to find the owner and promises herself that she would help people around her with her goodness if she finds the rightful owner of the box. Amèlie tracks down the owner and manages to deliver the box without revealing herself. There begins her game. She starts manipulating people’s lives intelligently from behind the curtains. She convinces her reclusive father to embark on journey to see the world by stealing his garden gnome and sending it with a globetrotting journalist who sends pictures of the gnome from different parts of the world. Using these pictures she manipulates him to believe that gnome too wants him to travel. (This gnome tale inspired another gnome escapade recently).
She befriends an old frail neighborhood artist who is obsessed about a painting of renowned French artist Renoir and keeps recreating it again and again to get the look of one girl in the painting right. In the painting a girl drinking water seems to be lonely and away in the crowd and this girl eventually gets interpreted as Amèlie.
Amèlie similarly manipulates her coworkers and others in the neighborhood and cleverly connects them to their true calling or their companions. She starts pulling strings of other people’s lives without their knowledge until she meets another crazy soul who is creating an album using passport pictures which people usually discard at passport photo booth and after much hesitation Amelie befriends him. The end of isolation of Amelie is the end of the movie.
The film can be rubbished for being wrapped up stereotype tale about goodness of friendly neighborhood girl set in Paris of bygone era. But Amèlie’s isolation, shyness, imagination and the way she weaves an imaginative purpose out of otherwise boring mundane alienated life lifts the film to an entirely different plane. It speaks volumes about modern urban alienation and how a mere invisible catalyst (Amèlie here) can help people connect to self and the world. It just reinforces that all we need is a rare vision to discover beauty in mundane things and power of imagination to escape and cope up with the burden of existential crisis. This subtle comedy is rooted in grim reality.