Most reviews indicate that Amélie (the US title) is about a young woman who decides to do the "random acts of kindness" thing. Well, sorta kinda. We start with a long narrated sequence which makes us think we're in for two hours of illustrated voiceover, but then the narrator shuts up and only pops in occasionally when the filmmakers need a quick bridge to the next scene. The first shown-not-told sequence involves Amélie finding a box of someone's childhood memorabilia and trying to track down the owner and deliver it without making herself known to him; this bit matches the description in the reviews well enough, but then the film loses a good deal of its focus. Amélie does do a bit of do-gooding, but those bits are sprinkled among threads involving her attempts to snag a guy she meets in a subway station and her sabotage of a mean fat guy's apartment. (Disturbingly, this last thread was the one that, by far, got the best reaction out of the audience — Americans may be wary of foreign films, but apparently respond to slapstick sadism like Pavlov's dogs to a dinner bell no matter what the language.)
Now, again, this is not a bad film — it's lightweight and a bit flabby and unfocused, but has some nice stretches and amusing moments. Still, I couldn't help but compare it to some movies I preferred that employed similar elements, and it occurred to me that mixing and matching might well be the key to making them work. Take Three Colors: Red, for instance, which is also about a (fairly similar-looking) young woman who does some good deeds and has been matched up with some guy by the film itself; it's a sweet, uplifting story about a good person and the interconnectedness of things, but the style is cool, carefully composed... anything but cutesy. On the flip side, you can take something like Fight Club, which uses a lot of the same tricks as Amélie, such as direct address to the camera, talking animals and unconventional superimposed text, but puts them at the service of a story that's brash and hip and political — again, not cutesy. You can take a sugary cereal and pour milk on it, or take pancakes and pour maple syrup on them, but take the cereal and pour the syrup on it and you end up with, well, Amélie.