Raymond Dufayel is a shut-in who lives in Amélie's building. Amélie has emotional reasons for her isolation; Dufayel has physical ones. As the narrator tells us, "They call him 'the glass man.' He was born with bones as brittle as crystal. All his furniture is padded. A handshake could crush his fingers. He's stayed inside for twenty years." So, he's basically Samuel L. Jackson from Unbreakable—just not evil.
Amélie visits Dufayel when investigating the origins of Bretodeau's little toy tin. Dufayel remembers Bretodeau and gives her a vital clue to finding him. But even after this, Amélie continues visiting Dufayel, and she sometimes leaves him little tapes of things she thinks he might enjoy, like a horse running in the Tour de France, or babies swimming. She leaves him these tapes so that he can have a glimpse of the outside world.
Dufayel's an artist who paints the same thing over and over. He has painted a replica of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" every year for twenty years. As he tells Amélie, "After all these years, the only person I still can't capture is the girl with the glass of water." Dufayel's a couple of steps removed from real life: he can only watch life from inside his apartment, and the only thing he can paint is a copy of someone else's painting.
Dufayel and Amélie use the painting as a roundabout way of discussing Amélie herself, and since the painting practically screams LE SYMBOLE (French for symbol), we'll discuss it more in our "Symbols" section.
The Year of Living Vicariously
Dufayel lives vicariously through others because he can't leave his own apartment. He encourages Lucien to say cruel things about Collignon, since he can't talk to the grocer himself. He gives Lucien painting lessons in the apartment, teaching him to paint something other than Renoir. And his main reason for giving Amélie the constant "girl with the glass of water" spiel is that he wants her to be able to find love and live the life he can't.
Dufayel makes his point most clearly when he has Lucien leave Amélie a special video message in her apartment. It's the only time we see Dufayel outside of his own quarters, even if it is only in video form. Via VHS, he tells her, "So, my little Amélie, your bones aren't made of glass. You can take life's knocks. If you let this chance go by eventually your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete's sake!"
"Him" is Nino, of course. Amélie takes the old man's words to heart, and get him she does—which allows Dufayel to move on, and in our final glimpse of him, we see him painting a new painting. Something completely brand new. Maybe his masterpiece.