I was a very impressionable kid. Leaving an air conditioned theater and stepping into the bright summer sun, I loved the feeling of wearing a movie character into the parking lot and taking parts of them home with me. From my gait, tone of voice, and things so specific as to how an actor chose to fold their socks, no part of my personality was safe from the call of whatever Silver Screen Siren was calling me. And there is no Siren as lovely or wonderful as Audrey Tautou in Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie.
Balancing an acute textural awareness with an illustrative flair, Jean Pierre Jeunet transforms common, borderline dystopic city scenes into rich narrative tapestries. He’s a director that cares for us deeply, making each scene more visually stunning than the last. In his parabolic world of verdant hues and a light fragrance of magic realism, we can let down our guard and soften our critical expectation to be entertained. It is in this cozy, vulnerable space that we meet the adorable Amelie Poulain. A keep-to-herself waitress living in Montmartre, Paris, Amelie has her scheduled life down to a T. When she isn’t visiting her emotionally absent father or listening to the colorful tales of her coworkers, she enjoys the simple pleasures in life (or what only the ever-romantic Parisians can consider “simple”): cracking the crust of a freshly fired creme brule, skipping stones, and slipping her slender fingers into large bags of grain. You know, the simple things.
Compensating for her own loneliness, Amelie discovers in a kid’s time capsule a motivation to do nothing but good to those around her. A seemingly basic desire at first, her dedication to doing the Right Thing evolves from reuniting a man with his childhood treasures to helping a house-bound man recapture his wonder and zeal for life. Through all these gestures of NiceWarmGoodness, Jeunet takes us on a voyeuristic tour of all of his characters’ lives, showcasing their intimate details and quirks. We want to look, especially as everything is shot so beautifully, but there is a looming sense of intrusion we’re left to deal with. Jeunet puts the small parts of his characters’ personalities at the forefront—the things we probably wouldn’t notice if this film weren’t such a simple, pure thought. We learn not by listening, but by watching; the way a cafe patron holds a glass, how a widow looks longingly at a portrait of her husband, the moment of eye contact before a kiss all work together, telling us everything we need to know and leave us wanting for nothing. It’s fucking magic.