Absolutely Fabulous

3 minute read

Amelie Poulain isn’t a witch, but the situations she conjures up are magical. Dead men write soothing letters to heart-broken wives they abandoned long ago. Abducted garden gnomes send photos of their world travels to calm distraught owners. Callous men weep with rediscovered emotion when long-lost childhood treasures materialize from nowhere. Even guardian angels who repair the fatal mishaps of their wards learn to nurture hopes and loves of their own.

Such is the enchanting world of Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain), a Parisian fairy tale generating ecstatic reviews. Last week, the film ended its second week in theaters as France’s box office leader with over 2 million tickets sold more than double American rival The Mexican, with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. Filmgoers are being charmed by Amélie’s gentle quirkiness and its evident fondness for Paris’ Montmartre area. Currently limited to theaters in France and Belgium, the film will soon roll out internationally under the English title Amélie from Montmartre.

Whatever you call it, the movie is a touching, irrepressibly funny fable of an elfin café waitress who surreptitiously arranges fortuitous developments in the lives of people she knows. After circumstances deny her influence over her own destiny early in life, Amélie decides to outwit fate by manipulating events to fulfill the hopes and desires of others. Populating that plot is an array of stock characters from classic French cinema, updated with comically magnified conditions, obsessions and idiosyncrasies. Amélie’s jilted concierge tipples port in the presence of a pet dog preserved by taxidermy. The wise, grandfatherly neighbor from whom Amélie seeks guidance is a misanthropic crank. Even Amélie’s beloved goldfish is suicidal.

The movie is the fourth feature by French writer and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose previous project was Alien: Resurrection. That 1997 sci-fi horror film established Jeunet in international cinema’s big-time, but two years in Hollywood left him longing for the charms of Paris. Back home in Montmartre, Jeunet began planning a film that would reflect Paris in his uniquely colorful and contorted visual style and recapture the dream-like atmosphere of his 1991 black comedy Delicatessen. The intent of Amélie, Jeunet says, was to make audiences feel happy—a goal he has clearly fulfilled.

In addition to Jeunet’s deft touch behind the camera, Amélie Poulain benefits from an appealing cast. Audrey Tautou, who won the César—France’s top film award—for best new actress last year, gives a heart-melting performance as Amélie. Mathieu Kassovitz, writer and director of the acclaimed 1995 film La Haine, is also disarming as the wholesome sex shop cashier who steals Amélie’s heart—and challenges her to tend to her own happiness as well as others’. If, like his heroine, Jeunet gets a kick out of making people feel warm and fuzzy inside, then he must be a happy man indeed. Even before counting last week’s box office.

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