Amelie, The Weird French Girl I Can’t Get Enough Of

By Claire Wilson 

March 11, 2024

On the third of September, 1975, at twelve twenty eight and thirty two seconds, a small gnat of the Forcipomyia family, one of nature's minor miracles, capable of 62,670 wing-beats per minute, landed on the road to Banon, in the Alps of Haute Provence. This is where the 2001 film Amelie begins. Raised by a nervous mother and an unemotional father, Amelie’s childhood was a lonely one. As an adult, she has a mischievous, classically French smile, and an iconic flipped bob. She works at a Parisian cafe and her spare time is full of simple pleasures; sinking her hands into lentil sacks at the market, skipping rocks, and watching her neighbor paint from her window. 

On the thirty first of August, 1997, while getting ready for bed, Amelie drops a perfume stopper, which hits a wall tile, dislodging it. She discovers an old tin of toys and memorabilia, and sets out on a mission to return it to its owner. Amelie decides that if she finds the owner and it makes him happy, she will dedicate her life to little acts of kindness.

Amelie’s schemes to bring people happiness are so creative and heartwarming the viewer can’t help but giggle. My personal favorite was when Amelie helps her introverted father, who wishes to travel the world, see the world by stealing his garden gnome and sending it with her stewardess friend. He receives polaroids in the mail; photographs of his gnome in front of the Roman Forum, the Statue of Liberty, and St. Basil’s Cathedral. “I don’t understand, I just don’t understand…” he mutters, as he stares incredulously at a photo of his gnome in front of the Empire State Building. 

“Maybe he just wanted to travel a bit,” says Amelie to her father, mildly disturbed by the disappearance of his beloved gnome and the mysterious photographs. 

Amelie’s anonymous acts eventually lead her to Nico, a young man almost as eccentric as she is. He collects torn up photo booth strips around Paris and pieces them back together in a book. When he drops his book and Amelie finds it, they chase each other around the city, him looking for his lost book of photographs, and her too nervous to meet him. They unsurprisingly fall in love. 

One of the things Amelie does exceptionally well is character development. The style of fast paced narration over a montage of a character is a technique first used in the French New Wave of filmmaking, an era which influenced director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in the making of the film. Jeunet uses wide angles in Amelie, allowing him to capture a close up of the characters while also showing the world they live in. In his analysis of Amelie, Sareesh Sudhakaran says, “this distorts the facial features in a way that lends to his type of comedy… You feel you are watching a comic book come alive.”

Amelie’s quirks, curiosity, and innocent mischievousness (or maybe her unsettlingly large eyes) make her an intensely likeable character, so much so that you can’t help but shriek in delight when Nico knocks on her door, or during the final scene, when they ride through the streets of Montmartre to the sound of accordion music, blissfully in love. 

While many believe that the moral of Amelie is to do kind things for others, I think the real message is that the most mundane things in life can be delightful if seen through the eyes of a child. Unlike most people, Amelie keeps the playful curiosity of her youth as an adult. The same mischievousness that drove her to disconnect her mean neighbor’s TV antenna at the most exciting moments of his soccer game, as an adult drives her to replace the meanspirited greengrocer’s light bulbs with ones that hum loudly and change his mother’s number to the psychiatric helpline on his speed dial. 

Amelie is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Its charming visuals, sense of humor, and masterful storytelling propelled it into widespread success upon its release, even surpassing Legally Blonde in its years-long reign as my favorite movie of all time. This is a movie that I will be watching again and again, always looking for “a detail that no one else notices,” as Amelie does when she goes to the cinema on Friday nights.