LE FABULEUX DESTIN D'AMELIE POULAIN (AMELIE FROM MONTMARTRE)
France, 2001, 120 minutes, Colour.
Audrey Tautou, Matthieu Kassovitz.
Directed by Jean- Pierre Jeunet.
On the whole this is a delightful film. It should entertain most audiences (though there are a couple of Gallic sex references). It is a comedy about goodness and doing good for others.
What makes Amelie so attractive? Certainly, the star, Audrey Tautou, has a wonderful screen presence in the Audrey Hepburn mould. Her character is a charming blend of the innocent and naive with a sometimes mischievous but always kindly tendency to intervene in people's lives, trying to make them better. That is, except for the cantankerous greengrocer who badgers and humiliates his mentally handicapped assistant. (You can't help laughing at what Amelie does to him by changing some of the fixtures in his apartment, his alarm clock, his lights and his toothpaste.)
For movie buffs who enjoyed the rather odd and exotic French features, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, will expect something odd and exotic from the director Jean- Pierre Jeunet. (He also went to Hollywood to give an offbeat tone to the Alien series by directing Alien Resurrection.) Hearing that he had directed a romantic comedy, one would assume that it would be sweetness and light. But the film is full of Jeunet quirkiness which gives a freshness to the romance and the comedy. Jeunet does not see the world as everyone else does. His eye and his camera record at all kinds of odd angles. His colour palette is not naturalistic and Paris, which features to great effect, especially the Montmartre district.
Jeunet also notices all kinds of funny little tics and human foibles that we can identify with. His gallery of characters are all interesting and he makes them distinctive and memorable with their idiosyncrasies: the people in the bar where Amelie works, including a failed philosophical author and a paranoid jealous customer; the people in Amelie's apartment block, including a widow still pining for her unfaithful husband after 30 years, an art copyist with brittle bones; the young man who collects rejected photos from those passport booths in railway stations with whom she falls in love.
In many ways Amelie is like a Parisien Alice in Wonderland. The screenplay refers to her exploits as like those of Don Quixote. But the main reference is to a Renoir painting the artist is copying. He is unable to do justice to the young girl at the picnic. In discussing this with Amelie, he is able to suggest how she might mature as she goes about her mission.
Jeunet starts us of with some belly laughs, describing and illustrating the strangeness of Amelie's parents and their affect on their shy daughter. He then keeps us smiling. But, back to Amelie. She discovers her mission in life is to fix others' lives even if she cannot sort out her own life - the full French title of the film is more forthcoming and can easily be understood: Le Fabuleux Destin de Amelie Poulin. Her destiny is to do good.
1. The popularity of this film in France, worldwide? Awards? Its charm, its humour, its fascination with visual style, jokes, serious look at the foibles of human nature?
2. The Montmartre setting, the basilica itself and the hill, the environment, the apartments, the bars, the railway stations, sex shops...? The musical score and the range of songs - especially those illustrating the themes of the plot?
3. The title and its focus on Amelie, her wonderful fate and destiny?
4. The work of Jean- Pierre Jeunet, his visual style, visual jokes, range of camera movement and angles to suggest various response? Visuals, special effects? The sound engineering and design and its emotional effect? The naturalistic style, the artificial and contrived angles, the use of video, of television footage, of old film? The combination of technique and a presentation of an unusual angle on people and life?
5. The humour of the prologue: the introduction to Amelie's parents and the listing of their idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes? The events on the birthday of Amelie, what people were doing, the minute detail? Her conception, the pregnancy, her birth? The attitude of her parents - her doctor father being distant and her wanting physical contact and so her heart beating higher and his thinking she had a heart disease? Her mother teaching her at home? The growing eccentricity of the family, of Amelie in this situation?
6. Amelie and her leaving home, the irony of her mother's death and the suicide of the Quebec visitor at Notre Dame? The father in his isolation? Amelie and her working at the bar? Amelie's personality, shy but alert, mischievous and playful yet reserved?
7. The introduction to the people at the bar: the manager and her background in the circus, her lost love? The various assistants, Joseph the jealous customer and his noting every detail of his girlfriend? Georgette and her hypochondria? Amelie fitting into this background? The regulars - especially the failed writer and his sense of doom, not for the past but for what might happen in the future? The quotations from his writings?
8. Amelie and her discovering the box in the wall, it changing her fate? Her deciding to find the owner, going to the lady downstairs and hearing the story of her husband running off 30 years earlier and his death? Going to the vegetable market and the dominant greengrocer and his humiliation of his one-armed, mentally handicapped assistant? Being advised to go to see his mother, the husband as an old man considered senile but giving her the information? The mother looking up her file? Her going through the phone book and trying to find the lost man - the collage of trying to find Dominic? Her meeting the man with the fragile limbs - after watching him through the window? His helping her with the true name? The beginning of their friendship?
9. Amelie and her friendship with the painter, his work with Renoir, the girl drinking (and Amelie drinking at the same time) and her being the symbol of not fitting into society, of being mysterious, Amelie's speculations about her having a boyfriend, the collaboration by video and talk and suggestion for the filling out of the character? Amelie as a French Alice in Wonderland of Montmartre? The references to Don Quixote and her quests? The collage of the television program that she watched, imagining her death and her funeral and the response of everybody to her charity? Her inability to help her father?
10. Amelie beginning her quests: her visits to her father, his building a shrine of kitsch to his wife, the garden gnome brought from the garage, Amelie's taking the garden gnome, giving it to the flight attendant? The sending of the photos of the garden gnome's travels to various countries including the US and Cambodia? The father's delight in receiving the photos, his puzzlement, Amelie's finally returning the garden gnome to the garden - and her father going on his trip at last?
11. Georgette and her hypochondria, Amelie suggesting that Joseph was infatuated with her, her comments to Joseph, their growing attraction, Georgette transforming herself, Amelie spilling the tea and their going into the restroom, the humour of everything shaking with their encounter in the restroom? Joseph, however, continuing his suspicions, taping his observations? Georgette becoming a nervous wreck? The other waitress and her being freed of the infatuation and able to live her own life?
12. The owner of the bar, her observing everything going on, her genial attitude towards Amelie?
13. The blind man and the speeded-up tour of Paris as Amelie explained everything to him?
14. Her encounter with Nino, seeing him at the photo booths, her puzzlement? Her following him? His running after the man in the car, trying to find his identity? His dropping his book, Amelie taking it home? Her looking at it, finding the recurring torn-up photos of this man, imagining he was a ghost? The search for the book, Nino and his notices, Amelie following them? Ringing the number, discovering the pornography shop? Her visit, the girl being very helpful, her going to the carnival, Nino and the ghost train and being in the skeleton whispering to her? Her ringing him, the contriving of the strategy of the arrows on Montmartre, the phone calls, the telescope, giving him the book? Her own discovery about the mysterious man as the booth repairer? Her setting up the situation so that Nino could discover this truth and be free of his worry? Her inviting him to the bar with the note in his pocket? His coming, talking to the waitress, Joseph's suspicions? Amelie and her waiting, not answering the door? The old artist advising her to take a risk - and her rushing out, the encounter with Nino and the happy ever after?
15. The old man and his paintings, his fragile bones, meeting Amelie, their discussions, the symbolism of the Renoir painting, his interpreting her life, her sending videos to him? His finally urging her to take the risk? His own friendship with the handicapped young man, the discussions, the painting?
16. Amelie and the greengrocer, disliking his humiliations, going to his home, changing the toothpaste, the lights etc? The humour of the greengrocer arriving too early in the morning, his bewilderment in his own home?
17. The lady downstairs, Amelie hearing about the plane found on Mont Blanc, rearranging the letter and sending it to the lady who thinks that her husband finally loved her?
18. Amelie and the effect of all this goodness and helping people? Her inability to help herself? Her need for finding her own destiny with Nino?
19. The very French style of the humour yet its universal appeal? The detailed attention to the foibles of human nature with which audiences could identify and find the humour? The appeal of a film about goodness?