Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is born in June 1974 and raised by eccentric parents who – incorrectly believing that she has a heart defect – decide to home school her. To cope with her loneliness, Amélie develops an active imagination and a mischievous personality. When Amélie is six, her mother, Amandine (Lorella Cravotta), is killed when a suicidal Canadian tourist jumps from the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris and lands on her. As a result, her father Raphaël’s (Rufus) withdrawal from society worsens. Amélie leaves home at the age of 18 and becomes a waitress at the Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre, which is staffed and frequented by a collection of eccentrics. She is single but not a virgin; she lets her imagination roam freely, and finds contentment in simple pleasures like dipping her hand into grain sacks and cracking crème brûlée with a spoon.
On 31 August 1997, startled by the news of the death of Princess Diana, Amélie drops a plastic perfume-stopper which dislodges a wall tile and accidentally reveals an old metal box of childhood memorabilia hidden by a boy who lived in her apartment decades earlier. Amélie resolves to track down the boy and return the box to him. She promises herself that if it makes him happy, she will devote her life to bringing happiness to others.
After asking the apartment’s concierge and several old tenants about the boy’s identity, Amélie meets her reclusive neighbour, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), an artist with brittle bone disease who repaints Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir every year. He correctly recalls the boy’s name as “Bretodeau”. Amélie quickly finds the man, Dominique Bretodeau (Maurice Bénichou), and surreptitiously gives him the box. Moved to tears by the discovery and the memories it holds, Bretodeau resolves to reconcile with his estranged daughter and the grandson he has never met. Amélie happily embarks on her new mission.