Great French Films - Amélie or Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain
Updated: Mar 15
Back in the early 2000s, there was a moment of sheer joy which enhanced my life forever. That was the moment my dear friend in Luxembourg sent me the CD (remember those?) of the wonderful soundtrack to a new release film. I had never heard of the film but the first time I listened to it I felt completely transported into an eclectic, beautiful world made by Yann Tiersen.
Yes, of course, the film was Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, also released as 'Amélie'.
As you can imagine I went to see it as soon as I could! I made a special journey to the West End of London to see it in a big cinema. (I am a cinema fan and love everything to do with films. It must be why I love the Netflix series 'Call My Agent!' so much too, but I digress...))
That was back in 2001 and I have been watching it ever since! Since then, it has become one of the most popular and well-known French films all over the world. It was nominated for 5 Oscars, numerous Césars and a multitude of other awards worldwide.
Here's a plot summary or synopsis...
Amelie - Film Plot
Without spoilers, the IMDB synopsis is short and simple: 'Amélie is a shy waitress in a Montmartre café. After returning a long-lost childhood treasure to a former occupant of her apartment, and seeing the effect it has on him, she decides to set out on a mission to make others happy and in the meantime pursues a quirky guy who collects discarded photo booth pictures.' (from imdb dot com)
Why the film is so lovable
We love and need magic. We need love and whimsy. Like the best films by Almodovar or Wes Anderson, it has a "look". This set design, lighting and costume work just makes the whole film so striking. For me, I can give a lot of leeway for this artistic licence as I know its a mise-en-scène kinda thing. The film needs the right feeling and look to come across in the way it does.
The film's pure nostalgia (with its mobi-bicyclette and photo albums, payphone kiosks and vintage tin) contrasts with the kindly characters portrayed in adult sex shops, Pigalle dance shows and a cast of quirky characters besides.
Yes, it's a kind of cleaned up Paris. Yes it's fantastical and whimsical and full of romance and quirkiness. It's not going for gritty realism or the realities of living in a modern city. It's not La Haine, right? (Actually, that's another recommended film, but a post for another time!) But that doesn't mean it's not a remarkable film. I'm not film critic, but I am a passionate film watcher and when I'm in the mood for whimsy, this is a go-to.
In fact it's kind of got a cult status in our family. Even my little one says "mais, non, crétin !" to parental winces all-round (she blames it on the teddy bear, I blame her father). It's a quotable film, well, at least in our house. Turns out we're both a lot more like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film character than we thought. Like the scene at the grocer, I too have stood there wishing that someone would whisper a clever, one-liner to put someone in their place if they're being rude. Introvert problems. 😆
I remember around release time, you could go into some photo booths and have an Amelie picture taken. I can't find mine, but I remember it being really fun! I also made a Christmas gift one year dressed in a Zorro-like mask and hat just like Amelie too. A box full of handmade cards with printed idioms, as a nod to Amelie's colleague who tests out men's character by asking them to complete idiomatic phrases like " two swallows do not a ... make"... "Summer". If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then go watch the film! ☺️
In fact, right now, I feel like the kindness, romance and fun of Amélie is exactly the sort of thing we need during these difficult times. Don't you love reading the stories of long lost friends having found each other or love letters found on a mountainside finally sent on to their intended recipient?
Amélie's resolution to bring happiness is one I wish I could follow everyday. Sometimes, it feels so much trickier with distancing and staying at home. Have you found ways to be kind in your community?
Anyway, back to the film...
In Paris, there are many walking tours for fans of Amelie including a visit to the café (see image above) Les Deux Moulins where you can still see some of the local shops of the street, rue Lepic, as in the film.
There's a simple guide to locations at this online article, which features a map (SPOILER alert be sure to see the film before reading though!). If you'd prefer to dream about doing your own walking tour of locations in the film, this blogger has done a lot of the work for you! Check out Livia's fabulous post here.
If you love the real life behind the film, then check out a fellow podcaster, Caro, who found some fascinating info about the film. Caro's French BlaBla podcast and study guide at her website.
For me, Jeunet's inspiring film is full of life and joy in its magic realism effect. It's a film with an observant eye and a full heart, glowing like the moment Amélie realises how she can do good.
If you haven't seen it, you can buy it at the links below (some are affiliate links, which help support the blog and podcast costs, but at zero cost to you).
I've also been inspired to create some Amélie - themed cards as I love card making and paper crafting so if you're interested, you can keep up with those at @archieandink on Instagram. Kindness matters - even artichokes have hearts - being my favourite so far. ❤️
I hope you're inspired to watch or rewatch this little gem of a film!
Enjoying the Film at Home
Amelie on DVD & Bluray
DVD in France / Europe
iTunes rent or buy
US Amazon Prime video - CBS channel
UK Amazon Prime video
N.B. I have done my best to share up-to-date links, but with so many copyright and distribution differences worldwide, you may have to search for more local information in your region.
Ensemble Cast - Obituaries and News
As an addition to this post, I would like to take a moment to pay my respects to the wonderful artists who formed the great ensemble cast in Amélie, and, in some cases, other Jeunet films also.
I was very sad to hear that Michel Robin died (his obituary in English is here.) from Covid-19 last December. His impeccable acting in this film is so memorable to me - his expressions and characterisation in the scene with Amélie, sitting in his garden are just perfect. You'll remember that his character is the father of Collignon the grocer, former ticket inspector whose wife finds his habit of punching holes in the privet hedges rather annoying.
In 2019, Serge Merlin also died and his performance as the man "made of glass" is equally memorable. That's the quality of this film - every performance is spot on.
Maurice Bénichou (shown below) who played the father whose childhood memories are given back to him in the long-lost tin sadly died in 2019 also.
The film's ailing poet, played by Artus de Penguern died in 2013 from a sudden heart attack. I prefer to think of him near the end of the film, reading his own words having been graffitied onto a wall and walking off with a spring in his step.
I was also sad to discover that the fabulous talking photograph, played by Ticky Holgado, died in 2004 from lung cancer.
Many other cast members have gone on to bring amazing performances to film and theatre audiences since this 2001 release including, of course, Mathieu Kassovitz and Audrey Tautou.
And little Amélie? She was played by Flora Guiet who is no longer an actor. But in the film, she'll always be that raspberry-eating, photograph-taking and introverted Amélie. You can see an article on some of the actors 19 years after the film.
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