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Amelie

If we lived in the world of Robert Altman's The Player, then I could describe the new French film Amelie as "a cross between City of Lost Children and Forrest Gump." For many people, that would be an intriguing, if slightly nauseating, proposition, and so it is with Amelie.

The first reference is easily explained since Amelie is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed the great surrealist City of Lost Children as well as its predecessor, Delicatessen. While Amelie isn't anywhere near as dark as his earlier works, it recalls City with its droll narrator, clever visual jokes, and ingenious set design. There are also a whole crew of interesting minor characters, such as the old man who makes copies of Renoir's most famous paintings, a man who collects discarded photographs, and a couple re-discovering love.

The Gump analogy is a little harder to explain, that is until you actually a see a picture of its titular character. Amelie is one of those people who exist only in the movies. She's completely innocent and naive, yet resourceful enough to change the lives of everyone around her. Her life is turned upside down one day when she discovers an old shoebox filled with a boy's childhood toys. After tracking down the boy (who's now a middle-aged man), she becomes obsessed with doing good deeds and making people's lives better. On the surface, there is of course nothing wrong with that sort of worldview. But watching two hours of Amelie's pixieish smile (often in extreme and distorting close-up) will make the more cynical long for the dark wit of Delicatessen. It's like eating cotton candy. A little bit goes a long way. But then I felt the same way about Forrest Gump

J. Robert Parks 11/5/2001

Amélie is a special movie, one of those films that possesses the rare and over-hyped quality of "movie magic." It is a very fine mix of hilarious comedy, heart-warming romance, and more.

Amélie centers on the life of Amélie Poulain, her family, and her friends. As a child, she loved her father so much that her heart would beat faster as she desired to hug him. Unfortunately, he was a doctor, and apparently not a very good one. He misdiagnosed her as having a heart problem, and she was kept out of school, away from others.

Amélie's heart problem, though, was that she had one in a world full of people unable to care for one another. As a spectator to the lives of others, she, like all of us, longed for a world where people were kind to one another, and where her innocence could be maintained. One day, as an adult, Amélie comes across an opportunity to bring joy to another person. The rest of the film is a magic journey through Amélie's kindness and practical jokes that bring joy and dismay to those around her.

Amélie starts her quest with the caveat that she's going to continue if and only if the first person she does a good deed for is glad for it. A few of her good deeds involve making an unkind man miserable by playing tricks on him. Although these tricks are very funny, they demonstrate that Amélie's love for mankind falls short of unconditional love. Jesus taught us to repay evil with good, not malice. Although these jokes satisfy our desire to see wrongdoers get what's coming to them, they leave the man without direction or hope, or any opportunity to reconcile with those he's wronged. There is no indication that most of her 'interventions' have any lasting effect (for anyone else but herself). The unkind man presumably continues being unkind. The man and woman she pairs up fall apart shortly after a brief tryst.

To be sure, this film has its problems. It is thoroughly secular and there is no place where Jesus or the Church are presented as having any relevance at all. Why would a Christian appreciate this movie?

Although Amélie fails to use the answers Jesus provides us, it does ask many questions that are, or should be, important to everyone. Many of its concerns about human relationships and human dignity are profoundly relevant it our materialistic culture. Amélie is a breath of fresh air, and should make for an engaging topic of conversation, both for Christians and non-Christians alike. 

Alan Willcox 1/27/2002

 
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