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'Amelie' delights despite tedious plotline

By Kirby Davis, The Miami Student

Given that there are over 64 million Netflix subscribers, and Oxford no longer has a working movie theatre, we'll be bringing you weekly movie reviews solely about films available to stream on Netflix. Happy Netflix-ing.

"Amélie" is a film not so much concerned with its plot as with its characters and their own individual, eccentric plights.

Titular character Amélie (Audrey Tatou) is raised isolated from the world outside her countryside home, due to her parents' mistaken belief that she has a serious heart defect. She develops an overactive imagination because of this that becomes rather morbid after a suicidal tourist jumped off Notre Dame and crushed her mother.

In her twenties, socially awkward but determined, Amélie leaves her father's house and gets a job at a bar in Paris. She is entertained by her offbeat coworkers and, as the film's narrator tells us, enjoys small pleasures in life: skipping stones, cracking the tops of crème-brûlée dishes, and going to the movies to watch other people's reactions. Yet she is largely unfulfilled until her life changes forever on the day of Princess Diana's death.

Amélie discovers an old toy box in her apartment, and with the help of Dufayel (Serge Merlin), an eccentric earmuff-clad man who lives in her building, tracks down the box's rightful owner. Once she witnesses the unprecedented joy the now-grown man experiences, she decides to dedicate her life to aiding as many people as she can, whether that means meddling in their relationships or simply helping them cross the street.

She soon spots Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) at a train station photo booth and is instantly intrigued by him. When he leaves his briefcase behind, Cinderella-style, Amélie seizes the opportunity and takes it home.

What she finds inside leads her to develop feelings for Nino, and the two embark on a frustratingly drawn-out game of what feels like hide and seek. She tries to return the briefcase multiple times, but dreads the reality check that will come with meeting Nino face-to-face.

The film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is initially a snappy, dark comedy, but loses its momentum after Amélie's quest to return the lost toy box is accomplished. It's aesthetically pleasing - every scene is tinted a retro, yellow-green and accompanied by classic French accordion music, and it features gratuitous, whimsical shots of Paris.

Yet this doesn't make up for the fact that the second half of the film is frustratingly dull, focusing almost entirely on side characters that I couldn't bring myself to care much about. There's Amélie's scatterbrained boss, a frazzled woman who sells cigarettes, and the elusive Dufayel, none of whom are nearly as intriguing as Amélie or Nino.

The film had potential as a quirky, albeit dark, romantic comedy, but this was largely squandered by its shifting focus from the central plot to multiple, less impressive side stories. "Amélie's" appeal seems to lie, therefore, in its special attention to detail rather than its general narrative.

In most scenes, every typically mundane action is highlighted. Every footstep, camera flash, and blink by those onscreen is pronounced. With every character we are introduced to, the narrator instantly gives us a brief rundown of their life story, likes and dislikes.

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This offers an entirely unique viewing experience, by providing such an intimate window into each character's life and drawing attention to little things we typically take for granted. Yet the novelty of this style does wear off, as the plot slows down and it becomes clear that its primary focus has shifted dramatically.

"Amélie" is a charming, thoughtful film. However, it walks the line between romantic comedy and dark, introspective personal narrative, two genres that simply don't seem to be cohesive. Had it been a film solely concerning Amélie and Nino's relationship, or those of her friends, I think it would be more enjoyable, but together, it's disappointingly tedious.

"Amélie" is currently available to stream on Netflix.

(Rating: 2 / 5 stars)