Amelie

Wowza!

Amelie (2001)

     I know what you are thinking: A 2001 movie is definitely not a classic. But let’s face it, Amelie is destined to stand the test of time and is an excellent example of what filmmaking can be. Ryan is working on a paper on the film for his world cinema course, so we have already sat through it twice in the last week. I have always identified Amelie as the most accessible French film for American audiences because it is so charming and visually pleasing to make reading subtitles worthwhile even for the most resistant theater-goer.

     Although director Jean-Pierre Jeunet said he used bold colors because it is a positive story (unlike his previous works: The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen), multiple viewings of Amelie have opened my perception to the fixation on morbidity prevalent throughout the film. Characters mention multiple times during the story the death of Princess Diana. Jeunet said this reference was used to establish that the narrative takes place in present times because the cultural references throughout the mise-en-scene could point to nearly any era. Jeunet thought audiences could better relate with characters that exist in their own time more so than those living in the past. The prevalence of “Lady Di”, however, also points to death. Consider the following:

  • Amelie’s mother dies in the background portion at the start of the film.
  • Cigarette counter worker Georgette’s imagined maladies threaten her life daily.
  • Amelie describes the mystery man in the photographs as a ghost, a dead man afraid he will be forgotten.
  • Monsieur Dufayel cannot leave his apartment because his brittle bones make for a fragile existence.
  • Amelie’s father is depicted as nearing the grave in his sad existence.
  • Dominique Bretodeau says he thinks he should contact his estranged son before he is “in a box” himself.

     Now consider Amelie. She imagines a news story on her death at age 22 and clearly fears dying alone, yet her upbringing has left her ill equipped to function normally among society. Even the characters she interacts with regularly do not seem to know her name. The concierge in the building where Amelie resides refers to her as the “pretty girl from the third floor”. The grocer knows her only by the produce she regularly purchases. Even her coworkers seem to operate independent of Amelie’s presence and almost never use her name.

     Jeunet is an absolute perfectionist and attempted to control every aspect of the film. He modeled several details on his own life experiences and used locales present in his present home town of Montmartre. I would be remiss to not mention Audrey Tautou as the fabulous actress behind Amelie. She really made herself known with this film and now might be the best well-known French actress in America (unless Marion Cotilliard has eclipsed her already). She would again work with Jeunet in A Very Long Engagement and breaks away from her adorable qualities to play a sexy high-class call girl in Priceless, a reimagining of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I highly recommend.  

     Despite the repeated references to death, Amelie still affects a light, positive quality that makes it both funny and heartwarming. Jeunet’s own discussion of the film seems he did not have any intention of bringing viewers down, but perhaps his history with other death-related films influenced him in this case.

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