OBJECTIVE: Give Bill twenty bucks every month. Watch the foreign film he brings back without any subtitles. Figure out what the hell is going on.

AMÉLIE (2001, France)

REMAINING CHANGE: Roughly $13, but I used it for lunch and don’t remember the exact amount.

My second foray into the realm of untranslated foreign film took me to the most clichéd land in the world: France. This movie was so influential, I’m using French words like “cliché” and possibly “foray” in this article already. Amélie was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which is French for “Wes Anderson.” The Academy nominated this movie for five awards because, apparently, the Academy thinks Audrey Tautou (Amélie) is bangin’, too. This movie is also the first major motion picture to be filmed from start to finish with an Instagram filter.


The movie begins with a fat man erasing a name from his book of women he’s boned. Why would the man erase a name instead of adding one? A bad lay. Next, the movie treats us to a shot of sperm through a microscope and circles the one that’s Amélie like John Madden doing a Monday Night Football broadcast; I’m not sure how genetics work specifically, but the sperm looked enough like Amélie. Also of note, this shot of sperm at 1:30 into the movie was a surprising feat that even the rape-fest that is Samurai Princess could not beat.

 This screenshot is unedited.

I think it’s important to take a quick time out from the plot to address a useful cinematic tool that is terribly ineffective in a different language: the first 15 minutes of the movie are narrated. In French. The narrator was telling me exactly what was happening while he crushed my soul. I’m assuming what he was saying was describing the origin of Amélie post-sperm, but what I felt was him insulting my being.

The movie rolls the opening credits with a bunch of shots of Little Amélie playing in an empty room with her imagination and shitty toys. I understand why “ennui” is a French word, because so far everybody involved in this whole thing is bored to the extent that life has no meaning. Also, these establishing shots of Amélie are crucial because they encapsulate the entire plot of the movie: Amélie has too much free time and spends it playing with her toys, and by toys, I mean people’s lives. This entire movie wouldn’t exist if Amélie picked up a couple more shifts at the diner where she works, but as it were, we are on a journey with Amélie in her quest to change lives like she’s the French My Name is Earl. 

Amélie’s childhood isn’t too noteworthy. The abridged version is that her father never shows up again and she’s taken in by the friendly town doctor, and her mother is killed by a woman committing suicide by jumping off a church.

Double Kill!

Amélie is an insufferable bitch who pulls pranks because she’s bored. She also tries to break the fourth wall, but language is a barrier that can’t be broken by seven-year-old brats. Sometimes magical things happen with weird-looking creatures made in arts and crafts at a summer camp. Seriously, Wes Anderson needs to sue. Then Amélie “grows up” and our whirlwind adventure into her life of meddling begins. It starts at the café where she works, and everybody there is ugly and miserable. They’re also neurotic and in need of a quirky woman to brighten their lives.

Wes! Are you seeing this?

Next we’re taken through a quick tour of all the people Amélie is going to metaphorically touch. Sometimes it’s physical, but not in the way they’d hope. If you know the Iliad by Homer, you’d appreciate it when I call this portion of the movie the Catalog of Shits. Blind guy, dude with big forehead and little mouth, mousy co-worker, France’s answer to Roseanne Barr, a kindly grocery boy with an abusive father and only one good hand, Amélie’s father who just happens to love a garden gnome, and a guy in the apartment across the street who wears a hat that makes him look like a homeless Russian and he’s an incredible artist who paints the same exact painting every single time. Are we decidedly quirky enough?

He should just kill himself, right?

A lot of her shenanigans don’t matter at all, but they’re entertaining enough to watch. She kicks off her tour de Earl when she finds a time capsule hidden behind a loose tile in her bathroom. She tracks down its owner and returns it to him. This warms his heart, and supposedly ours. Amélie exacts revenge on the mean grocer with her MacGyver-like abilities after she makes a fucking copy of the keys to his home. At one point Amélie also explains the beauty of the world to the blind man and then literally says bye and leaves him to stand alone and, most importantly, still blind. There are all kinds of ingenious ways she helps others, but I don’t need to go into detail about how this was the productive version of The Parent Trap.

Throughout the movie, Amélie sadistically tortures her love interest because she doesn’t know how to actually interact with people without being the Puppet Master. Oh, at one point she goes to a carnival where he works on a spooky boat ride that’s like that scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the acid, and he’s dressed as a skeleton and breathes heavily on her. He moans a lot, and she does a lot of nothing. That’s all. This man, whom I pretty rakishly named Jacques, also works quirkily at a sex shop and quirkily collects photos that have been torn up and left on the ground by a photo booth. Jacques keeps a scrapbook of all the people’s faces he’s reconstructed like some sort of mad scienti– OH FUCK, WHY IS SAMURAI PRINCESS HAPPENING TO ME AGAIN?!

The saddest photo booth.

In between leaving cryptic messages at pay phones to Jacques to meet him in places she’s never actually present, Amélie continues to play God to the denizens of Paris. She steals her father’s gnome and sends it out with a flight attendant who takes pictures of it all over the world. I guess this is an old tradition called “roaming gnome,” but I called bullshit on plagiarizing Travelocity and I’m too proud to admit I’m wrong. She hooks up the guy whose face looks like a funhouse mirror with her mousy co-worker, and she sends videos of stupid things like babies swimming and horses ruining the Tour de France to the Russian painter, hoping to break him out of his routine. Essentially, these recordings are VHS YouTube videos, and they’re so powerful he ends up painting the same exact scene in a different style.

She gets him laid.

Damn, this movie is distracted. I forgot about Amélie‘s plot, which is finding her love. One of the nominations the Academy gave was for a purple heart to Jacques for all the trauma he suffered. So, after sending him to a park, the photo booth, the cafe, back to the photo booth, Hell, and probably a host of other places off-camera that would crush a lesser man, our two lovers end up together. A lot of weird tentative kisses, and then it’s Bone Town and Amélie overcomes the one thing plaguing her entire existence: her inability to control her own life that she masks by controlling the people around her. HA! Just kidding! Jacques gets so fed up with her shit that he just finds out where she lives because somebody has to cut the bullshit. The movie closes with shots of the lives Amélie has bettered, and Amélie and Jacques riding a scooter WAY too fast on a narrow road without helmets. And that is the story of how Amélie remained the same exact flawed person throughout her entire life.

At one point early in the movie, there are a hundred cuts to different people fucking throughout the city; specifically, the shots are focused on the women moaning. Then, Amélie breaks the fourth wall and says something to me, which my brain didn’t understand and my boner didn’t need to understand.

A pretty fair amount. I could tell by the character’s reactions and the way the camera would linger after some lines that the dialogue in this one was probably the richest part of the movie, but of course I didn’t get the benefit. I screamed at Amélie three times because she was so frustrating, but the screaming felt kinda nice. I didn’t feel like a violated shell of a human after this one, so overall, it was infinitely better than Samurai Princess.

And now, Cinemanaut Bill ranks James on his ability to comprehend the film.

  • Nailed it: While the language barrier might keep you from specific details, James rather cynically but correctly identified Amélie as a tinkerer in the affairs of others. All these sad French people lead sad French lives until Amélie butts in… but who will butt in on Amélie’s life?
  • Failed it: That guy erasing a name? That was a completely random dude removing a recently deceased friend from his address book. How could James have missed that?! Hmm, probably because this flick cuts away to a lot of seemingly unconnected “Behold, the chaotic beauty of life!” moments. Oh, and James seems to think that Amélie’s father abandoned her and she was adopted by a doctor, but no, her dad is… also a doctor, those are the same person. The confusing montage of couples porking was a fantasy of Amélie’s about how many people are currently having an orgasm at the same time, but the answer is actually seize if you also count James. Some crucial dialogue regarding a girl in the painting serves to criticize Amélie’s meddling ways and calls her out as a coward rather than a guardian angel, so it’s easy to see why lacking this information would cause James to overlook her growth as a character (that or she just really does have a weak arc, your mileage may vary). Finally, James may have misunderstood the pervy skeleton scene because it’s fucking weird in any language.
  • Improved it: Wait a minute, did James think Random Erasing Guy was Amélie’s biological dad? And he left her mother because she was bad at sex? That’s hilarious. Good work, James.


James S. is a member of the Portland Comedy Co-op and doesn’t really use Twitter.