Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)

“So, my little Amélie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete’s sake!”

‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain’, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 2001, is a French romantic comedy starring Audrey Tautou as a shy waitress on a mission to help people. Amélie, played by Tautou, lives alone in a flat. She makes a discovery behind a tile in the wall: a time capsule containing photographs and a child’s toy. After researching the previous occupants of her flat, she locates the now middle aged child and anonymously reunites his with his possessions. The effect this has on him leads her to do more acts of nostalgic kindness which leads to her meeting a kindred spirit who shares her eccentric approach to life. It’s a film that combines a fantastical, romantic depiction of Paris, particularly the Montmartre area, with an equally romantic approach to the past. It’s a film that fetishizes childhood to the point of making the central character a pleasing hybrid of innocent and scheming (at times almost dangerously cunning) adult. A lot of this lies with the unworldly performance of Tautou, but without the sunny, off-kilter visual look of the film complementing this, the central message wouldn’t be so powerful. In terms of tone, the film is reminiscent of Jacques Rivette’s ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’: the same sense of play, the same transformation of the streets huddled beneath the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris transformed into a playground for treasure hunts and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ style adventures. ‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain’ has a more focused, less ‘shaggy-dog’ feel to it, but retains that feeling of alieness that Rivette threads through his movie. I’m not a fan of the darker ‘Delicatessen’, but here Jeunet’s style seems to perfectly match his choice of location and narrative.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s an accessible and joyful film, with all the twisted logic of Jeunet’s earlier work, but without the darkness. Watch in a double bill with ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ and then read my blogpost on Paris as a Playground.


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