The Film: Amelie (“Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain”)
(Be warned that this beautiful movie is rated R for sexual situations)
The Pairing: Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) and Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz)
The Moment: Amélie goes after Nino at last.
I was surprised to recently see that it’s been fourteen years since the French film Amélie first premiered. After shaking off the usual invasive thoughts of “Boy do I feel old.” “I need to go to France.” etc etc, I spent some time reflecting on this unique and whimsical movie which has enchanted so many people. This tale of a quirky, surprising and (for me) relatable young woman interfering in the lives of the odd yet real people she meets around her received numerous nominations when it first came out for good reason.
The visuals capture the beautiful, fairy-tale side of Paris. The unusual story draws you in, and the acting of Audrey Tautou is perfect. I really find it hard to believe sometimes that she’s not really a creature with one foot in the fantasy world. The romance in this story is superb with a beauty to it that makes me ache. The ending scenes of the film are the perfect climax to the flawless build of tension that we have been experiencing for most of the film. It could not be more satisfying.
How it began…
Amélie Poulain experiences a rather cold childhood, living alone with her father who loves her, but cannot seem to show her any warmth, so from early in life Amélie learns to crave tenderness. After she leaves home, she finds work as a waitress in a little café. After having a few unsatisfying love affairs, she gives up on romantic love and spends her time enjoying simple pleasures and generally observing the interesting lives of people around her like her neighbours or the little dramas going on among the regulars in the café. She has no strong friendships or bonds with anyone it seems though she is liked by her coworkers and neighbours. She is lonely but not overtly unhappy.
By chance, she discovers some childhood mementos hidden in her apartment from some previous tenants, and she decides to try to return them to their owners now grown up. If she is successful, she vows to herself that she will devote her life to helping others and making them happy. Her effort is so effective, Amélie makes good on her vow and proceeds on her quest to bring joy to the people around her. Being Amélie, she goes about it in a secretive and capricious way. She not only looks like a pixie, she acts like one, covertly manipulating things to change the lives of others in her own sneaky way. Of course, things don’t always go well, but it makes Amélie’s life interesting. Along the way she makes friends with her elderly neighbor M. Dufayel, a painter who has a condition which makes his bones as brittle as glass, so he is in constant danger of injury. Like Amélie, he is withdrawn from those around him.
During her busy meddling, Amélie encounters a young man who seems to have his own sense of whimsy. Nino Quincampoix – he of the adorable, sweet face and elegant nose – spends his spare time collecting discarded photos near photo booths around Paris. He treasures them, keeping them in a photo album. Amélie observes him keenly from afar whenever she crosses his path. She is fascinated by him. When Nino loses his photo album one day, true to her usual impish ways, she steals it and leaves clues to its whereabouts, leading Nino on a treasure hunt around the neighbourhood. She even leaves a picture of herself disguised with a domino mask for him to find. She arranges for Nino to finally come to her café, but when faced with him, her strong shyness takes over, and she cannot make herself take the final step of meeting Nino properly. Even when he confronts her, asking if she is the person in the picture, she denies it. She cannot get past her reticence even though she desperately wants to, and she is filled with grief.
One of Amélie’s coworkers though has been making some observations of her own, and she decides to stage her own friendly interference. After talking to Nino to get to know him, she tells him where Amélie lives. In the meantime, Amélie is home in tears, baking a cake. In her mind she imagines being with Nino, sees him going to the grocer’s to pick up ingredients for a cake: the life she longs for and she sobs.
Amélie suddenly hears a knock at the door. As she walks toward it, she recognizes Nino’s voice calling her name. Shocked, she approaches the door silently then rests her ear against it, listening. On the other side, in one of the film’s many amazing visuals, Nino is resting his ear to the door, but he hears nothing inside. He takes out a paper, writes on it and slips it under the door. Amélie picks it up.
“Je revendrai” it says. “I’ll be back.”
Softly, Amélie walks back through her apartment to the window and looks out cautiously. Nino is crossing the street below. As he is about to look back up at her apartment, she dodges back. She stands there trying to compose herself and the phones rings, loud and jarring in her silent apartment.
She digs out the phone and hears M. Dufayel’s voice on the phone. He simply tells her to go into her bedroom.
Amélie puts on her old-fashioned television set and finds herself looking into the face of her neighbor. They have set up a video camera in M. Dufayel’s apartment, so he can talk to her live on her television, so he doesn’t have to leave, endangering his fragile body. Amélie watches, her eyes wide in her tear stained face.
In his slow deliberate voice, M. Dufayel tells his friend, “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!”
Finally, something breaks within Amélie. She jumps up and runs to the front door to go after Nino. She flings it open and nearly runs right into him. They stare at each other.
Finally, they are face to face with no secrets and tricks separating them.
Nino begins to speak, but we never know what he’s about to say. Amélie puts her fingers to his lips to silence him. After they have been destined to meet for so long, there is no need for words.
She grasps him by his jacket and pulls him gently into the apartment and pushes the door shut. Nino stands quietly, close, observing her. He’s finally face to face with the little sprite who has been haunting him. He is moved, surely his heart is racing, but he’s content to watch her and see what she does next.
Slowly, Amélie leans close and kisses Nino gently on the corner of his mouth. Her movements are slow, deliberate; there’s plenty of time. She leans up and kisses him on the side of the neck, resting her head against him for the briefest second, then slipping away. Then she leans upward, and Nino bows his head a little, so she can kiss him on his eyelid. Then they are face to face, gazing at each other again. I love how passive Nino is in accepting Amélie’s gestures.
As they contemplate each other, Amélie continues to lead the way. She touches her finger to the corner of her mouth, and Nino reciprocates, mirroring her actions.
He smiles slightly and kisses her on the corner of her mouth. She bends her head away a little, and he obliges and presses his lips to the side of her neck. Amélie closes her eyes blissfully. Nino pauses to rest his nose against her as if savouring the feel of her, then they stand straight. Amélie shuts her eyes again, and Nino leans in to kiss her on her eyelid.
The camera switches to Amélie’s little cat watching the tête-à-tête, clearly reflecting on the foibles of humans as cats do.
Next we see M. Dufayel watching Amélie’s window through binoculars from his apartment across the street. He can see the silhouettes of Amélie and Nino through her curtain kissing passionately. His work is done. The soul mates are together at last.
Amélie is such a perfect movie for romantics, for people who thrive on whimsy, for anyone who loves Paris (whether you’ve been there or you long for it from afar) and for anyone who has ever felt shy and longed to reach out to someone- and who hasn’t had that happen some time or another! See it and enjoy!
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