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Release Year: 2001
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Guillaume Laurant
How many people are watching movies right now? We'd guess about 1.2 billion. How many people are on their cell phones right now? Probably about 3 billion. How many people are on Shmoop right now? Probably the same number, give or take a few hundred.
And how many people are falling in love right now? If it were up to Amélie, it would be all of them.
These are the types of silly games Amélie likes to play when she's by herself. Amélie is a waitress in a café in Montmartre who likes skipping stones, playing matchmaker, and searching the souls of people. Amélie doesn't like when people are mean to one another, and she doesn't like it when people are not living up to their full potential.
Sound saccharine? She is.
Amélie is also the main character in the movie Amélie, or as the French call it, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. That's The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain, for all you non-Francophiles out there. A pretty big title for a movie about one small French girl.
Amélie, which was subtitled in English just in time to hit U.S. theaters in November 2001, is about a young woman named Amélie Poulain, who, after discovering a lost box, decides to do good deeds for others—until she realizes she's been neglecting herself in the process. Then she must overcome her own shyness and her own reluctance to achieve happiness of her own.
This is the film that put director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou on the map in the U.S. Jeunet had actually done an English-language film previously, the critically panned Alien: Resurrection (1997). Jeunet's early work is actually pretty dark; we're talking about Delicatessen (1991), a movie about a cannibalistic butcher, and City of Lost Children (1995), a movie about a mad scientist stealing dreams.
Perhaps Alien: Resurrection was so dark (or so bad?) that Jeunet decided he had had enough with the dark side. Whatever the reason, he did a complete 180 with Amélie, where he transitioned into a world of whimsy and romance, one that he would continue to explore with Audrey Tautou in A Very Long Engagement (2004).
Tautou, meanwhile, would go on to play Coco Chanel in Coco Before Chanel (2009) and Jesus's descendant or something (um, decade-old spoiler alert) in The Da Vinci Code (2006), making her the most famous French actress in the U.S. until Marion Cotillard swept through in a few Christopher Nolan movies.
Curse you, Edith Piaf?
Amélie is a movie about big dreams but with a small production budget of only $10 million (American). French production house Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC) must have been très excited to see the film gross almost $180 million worldwide and become the highest-grossing French film in the U.S.. And it did this not by generating controversy, but by doing the opposite. Its heroine actually inspired real people to do good deeds.
So, what are you waiting for? We mean, really, how many people are watching Amélie right now?
There are few films that evoke the sheer joy, or perhaps we should say joie de vivre, that Amélie does. Just look around, and you're bound to see more films that are cynical, moody, depressing, and violent than you are films that are upbeat and inspiring, especially good films for adults that aren't on the Hallmark channel.
How does Amélie do it? Through the sheer artistry of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, for one thing. He creates a world that is inventive and dynamic, full of bright colors and amazing scenery. Sure, the vision of Paris it is set in is not reality, but it's the way we all want the world to be on some level. Kind, happy, and full of people paying it forward.
Yet Jeunet manages to do all of this without being sappy. Name one other film that's about bringing people together that features a suicidal goldfish, a sex shop, and a man who hasn't left his apartment in twenty years. We'll wait.
Okay, no we won't, because we'd be waiting forever. The vision of Amélie is unique in that it finds drama in happiness. It's about building community in a world before the sharing economy took over, with Etsy, Uber, and Airbnb. Considering Amélie came out in November 2001, there's no wonder it was so successful in the U.S. It was released just a couple of months after the country needed some happiness the most.
Amélie does good deeds that bring people together not to get positive Yelp reviews, but purely for the joy that it brings her. Give her a shot.
Isn't it nice when Amélie helps the blind man? Hannah Thompson doesn't think so. In her insightful (no pun intended) article, she wonders why Amélie doesn't even ask the man where he wants to go. What if he didn't want to be left by the subway station? What if he has no idea where he is and can't ever get home? It's interesting to think about. (Source.)
If your uncle who only speaks in Upworthy posts on Facebook ("a French girl found a mysterious tin in her bathroom and what she does next will leave you smiling") posts a picture of a teddy bear cloud saying it's real, you can prove to him that it's actually a scene from Amélie. In 2006, a screencap from the film was making the rounds as if it were real. (Source.)
The real Café des 2 Moulins wasn't doing too hot financially before Amélie came along and rejuvenated business. The café is now a thriving tourist hotspot. (Source.)
Audrey Tautou can do pretty much anything. She writes in cursive backwards, she peels an apple in one continuous loop in A Very Long Engagement, and she almost makes The Da Vinci Code a decent movie. Almost. But one thing she can't do is skip stones very well. All the stone skipping scenes in Amélie had to be enhanced digitally. (Source.)
The official Amélie site features an assortment of colorful film clips and tempts you to join the throng of almost 3 million Facebook fans.
Lost in Translation
We hope you speak French. You'll need it to navigate Jean-Pierre Jeunet's official website. Bonne chance!
In this interview, Jeunet discusses his obsession with secret lives and his transition from darker fare to the lighter whimsy of Amélie.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet sits down with The Onion A.V. Club for an interview about fantasy, romance, and all the little pieces that make Amélie tick.
Jeunet reveals that although he shot on location in the real Montmartre, sometimes they changed the sky digitally to make it prettier. If only the sky worked that way in real life.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet trash talks J.Lo! Okay, not at all, but he does criticize the director of the 2000 Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell in this interview about his own personal style.
Edited for Content
This YouTube video shows us exactly what a film editor does, using Amélie as its template.
If you've wanted to know what Amélie has been doing since the credits, wonder no more.
Full of Hot Air
Foutaises, a 1989 short film by Jeunet, features a familiar face. (And some adult content.) It's entirely in French, so all we can figure out is that plucking a nose hair is painful business.
Amélie may have been rejected by Cannes, but she was accepted by All Things Considered on NPR.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet can add DJ to his resume after guesting on Tom Schnabel's Rhythm Planet.
Good Music for Good Deeds
Need background music while you get your Good Samaritan on? Pump the Amélie soundtrack to get motivated.
Amélie Becomes Eclectic
Yann Tiersen, who scored Amélie, shows many of the same qualities in his studio music, which he shares on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Puts the Art in Montmartre
Does the real Montmartre live up to your expectations set by the fantasy version in Amélie?
From Amélie to Z
Amélie has inspired many minimalist posters, like this one that transforms its heroine into Zorro in one of the movie's final scenes…
Love. Paris. Gnomes.
… Or this one, which condenses Amélie down to the three very important things.