There are movies that tickle the funny bone. There are movies that gently tug at your heartstrings and tickle the funny bone at the same time. And then there are movies so delightful that you can’t stop smiling for a long time after you see them.
And then, there’s Amelie.
Here is a movie constructed almost entirely out of sunshine and laughter. I think the operative word is confection. Only, Amelie isn’t your everyday milk chocolate. It’s a bag of Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans. I lost count of the number of times I practically shrieked in delighted laughter. This is one of those movies whose entire running time qualifies for a Freeze Frame post. However, if I had to pick my favourite moments, it would have to be these three:
Amelie’s mother’s death. Roger Ebert’s review describes the scene as follows: “Her mother dies as the result of a successful suicide leap off the towers of Notre Dame, a statement which reveals less of the plot than you think it does.” I cannot come up with a more apt summation.
Fifteen. The narrator explains that Amelie busies herself in strange and trivial pursuits, such as guessing how many people are having an orgasm in Paris right at that very moment. And the scene cuts to a montage of people having an orgasm. Fifteen, to be precise. A lesser movie would’ve just mentioned that line and had us wonder.
My pick of the lot is what I call the Occam’s Razor scene. Amelie has left Nino Quincampoix a message in a Polaroid photograph cut into little pieces and left at a random place that he frequents. The photograph shows her in a Zorro costume holding a signboard that asks him to come to the bar where she works that afternoon. If this sounds wierd, you should see the rest of the movie.
Anyway, she’s at the bar waiting for him and he doesn’t turn up at the specified time. The narrator says:
Nino is late. Amelie can only see two explanations. 1 – he didn’t get the photo. 2 – before he could assemble it, a gang of bank robbers took him hostage. The cops gave chase. They got away… but he caused a crash. When he came to, he’d lost his memory. An ex-con picked him up, mistook him for a fugitive, and shipped him to Istanbul. There he met some Afghan raiders who too him to steal some Russian warheads. But their truck hit a mine in Tajikistan. He survived, took to the hills, and became a Mujaheddin. Amelie refuses to get upset for a guy who’ll eat borscht all his life in a hat like a tea cozy.
The entire narrative is accompanied by visuals depicting the alternative, filmed in the sort of choppy way you see in old documentary footage.
While teaching neural networks and learning theory, I often refer to this scene when I discuss the concept of having the simplest curve that fits the available data. You understand why, I’m sure.