Amélie ★★★★½

My name is Adam Cook and I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve tried to hide it and keep it a secret but the truth is that there’s nothing better than getting swept away in a romance and cinema is the best medium for capturing that intoxicating feeling. From the grand gesture of A Matter of Life and Death to the tentative delights of Before Sunrise, film has captured love in its many shapes and sizes.

One of the finest love stories this century is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Parisian fairy tale, Amelie. It possesses so many elements that I would normally hate - the quirky characters, sugary-sweet whimsy and soppy protagonist - but I fall under its spell each and every time I watch it. It’s hard to express why it works for me when so many films of this kind do not (although the presence of Audrey Tautou undoubtedly helps) but Jeunet has created that rare and beautiful thing - cinematic magic.

Amelie, for the handful of people who still haven’t sampled its delights, is a thoroughly charming film about the eponymous ingénue - a waitress working in Montmartre who helps friends and strangers find the love and happiness she denies herself. She’s a dreamer living in her own world and too scared to make the leap until she meets a man almost as peculiar as she is.

It’s easy to be critical of a film like Amelie. It’s a twee confection that bears no relation to reality whether in its depiction of an all-white Montmartre or the oddballs and misfits each living in their own obsessive worlds. I understand why it has its detractors and if you aren’t beguiled by its nostalgic whimsy and naive eccentricities I imagine it could be a quite torturous experience.

Thankfully, for once, I’m not one of those miserable nit-pickers. It’s a film that transports me to a fantastical world filled with improbable characters and elaborate romantic gestures. Perhaps Jeunet’s methods are manipulative but the film shares the protagonist’s innocence and sense of wide-eyed wonder. As exaggerated and distorted as this Parisian depiction is you buy wholeheartedly into the world and the travails of its eccentric inhabitants.

Jeunet has created a heavily stylised world bursting with warm reds and golds. It’s a romanticised view vividly brought to life and filled with beautiful touches and flights of fantasy. Every frame is exquisitely rendered and although stripped of the director’s earlier macabre embellishments (perhaps because of Marc Caro’s departure) this is perhaps his most visually striking work to date.

As wonderful as Jeunet’s direction is, Amelie would be nothing without its main attraction: Audrey Tautou. Originally conceived for Emily Watson it is practically impossible to imagine another actress in the role. Although already a popular actress in France it was this film that made her an international star as the world fell for her elfin charms. She brings to life a character that should never really work, creating a warm and naive protagonist you can’t help but fall in love with. Amelie wasn’t the film that started my love for Audrey Tautou but it was the one that cemented it.

[12 redacted paragraphs about my love for Audrey Tautou]

The characters that orbit Amelie’s world are a collection of sad sacks and obsessives from a downtrodden grocer’s assistant to a man locked away in his apartment due to his brittle bones. Just like the audience, each one is enriched by the presence of Amelie as she helps them find happiness and new meaning in their lives.

Her own story - the would-be romance with Mathieu Kassovitz’s mysterious collector of discarded booth photos - possesses an endearing innocence as she finds the courage to look for love herself. It’s not particularly sophisticated, and the object of her affection remains an indistinct presence, but you get swept up into her romantic viewpoint (which is made all the more impressive when they never even share a single line of dialogue together). The film’s episodic structure would normally be problematic yet it’s just a joy to spend time in this meticulously crafted storybook world.

Like the unconventional characters that populate the film, Amelie isn’t perfect but it’s the quirks and peculiarities that ultimately make it such a magical experience.