Thursday, September 20, 2012

Amelie

Amelie (2001) resembles the kind of movie Terry Gilliam might make if he were French and wanted to remake Ferris Bueller's Day Off and combine it with Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amelie is more or less set in the real world, but it would not be inaccurate to call it a fantasy. There aren't any witches, time traveling,  ghosts, or fairies, but it's about just how fantastic real life can be as long as you stop and appreciate the small details.

Our main character is, of course, Amelie (Audrey Tautou), a child-like waitress at the Parisian cafe, the Two Windmills. Because her doctor father Raphael (Rufus) mistakenly diagnosed her with a heart condition, she had a sheltered and secluded childhood away from other people and has grown up to be rather introverted, content with her imagination. One day, she finds in her apartment a hidden box of childhood treasures of a former tenant. After arranging that he gets the keepsakes back and witnessing his reaction, Amelie decides to help others find happiness, playing secret helper and matchmaker to the people of the cafe, her father, and others, and in the process, she finds love.

The film is constructed almost as a series of vignettes as Amelie helps people in different ways, all the while emerging from shell. Instead of announcing herself as a Good Samaritan and taking credit for her deeds, she, like a practical jokester, stages elaborate schemes. Her father secretly desires to travel the world but holds off; Amelie steals his prized garden gnome and has pictures of it taken at different world landmarks and sends them to her father as postcards. The man whose childhood keepsakes she returns finds them inside a ringing telephone booth and is inspired to reconnect with estranged daughter. In another case, Amelie takes letters written by the long-dead husband of her apartment building's concierge (whom he abandoned) and forges a new letter offering reconciliation dated just before his death.

Jeunet films the movie in a skewed style that suggests the fantastic, even though the story is more or less set in the real world and plausible. He relies on a lot of closeup shots of faces, wide-angle lenses that distort features, and rapid, almost frantic editing. Early in the film, the narrator introduces all the usual customers and employees at the cafe by describing one little thing they enjoy and one little thing that drives them crazy. In one scene, Amelie helps a blind man cross a busy street and instead of just getting him across, she guides him to the metro station, all the while breathlessly describing the sights to him, the camera jumping to each subject as she gets to them. In another, the narrator says Amelie likes to gaze at the city and ponder questions such as how many couples are achieving orgasm at that moment: cue a rapidly-cut montage of nameless people engaged in the act of coitus and climaxing with Amelie turning to the camera and declaring 15. It's an appropriate style that matches the breeziness and wonder of the main character.

I can't recall seeing a movie this sweet and innocent that wasn't specifically aimed at children. Sure, there are elements of death, loneliness, and jealousy, but Jeunet doesn't dwell on them. The movie is simply charming and about how wonderful it it to be alive.

2 comments:

  1. Mark, this is so fantastic I can't stand it. I get all whimsy gushy just reading it, because that's how much I love the movie and your post. Thanks for covering one of my faves - I hope you enjoyed it, too (if you hadn't seen it before!).

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    1. Thanks, Kate. No, I hadn't seen it before. It had been on my radar to see, but I had never gotten around to it. My familiarity came from director Jeunet because of his work in the more overtly fantasy or sci genre like "City of Lost Children" and "Alien Resurrection."

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