Saturday, 29 August 2009

It's called a reality check. The last thing Amélie wants

No 196 - Amelie
Director - Jean-Pierre Jeunet

I have just been to France for a week. Which was lovely. Wherein I decided, rather than sitting indoors with a DVD player I should go to the pool. Reintroduce my self to Ping Pong. Sip fine red wines as I read American Gods. Visit Cognac and stare in disbelief at 200 year old bottles of booze which cost upwards of £1,500.

So I did all these things and I returned to England. I sit in my Putney home feeling fully Francophillic with nothing worth drinking but a bottle of White wine. Therefore it seemed a butch and manly evening of plonk and Amelie was in order. Or to give it its full name (which is never used for some reason) The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain. Or... to give it its actual proper and real name Le fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain.

Before I start talking about the film, I want to mention the oddness of the stock from which it emerged. By which I don't mean I'm going to get hideously geeky about negatives, but in fact mean I want to talk about Jean-Paul Jeunet. If you haven't seen any of his earlier films, go an check them out. Specifically Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. They are wonderfully twisted films showing a vivid and somewhat bonkers dystopian future. It is probably for the best if you ignore his first English Speaking film....
The easiest way to Anglify the strangeness is if you think of Terry Gilliam making Brazil and 12 Monkeys and then deciding he wants to adapt the visual style of Wes Anderson in order to make a pretty, fluffy and utterly twee romantic comedy (in fact - watch Wes Anderson's prelude to Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier (part 1 and part 2 for your delectation) and see how much it feels like a sad Amelie).

It is a strange concept, and it is done with a stunning level of prowess.

A lot of this comes from the sheer amazingness of Audrey Tautou's performance. This was her 'break out role' and it rocketed her into the public eye. Justifiably so. For she is amazing. Throughout almost all of the film, the camera locks on to Amelie. She is more than just the titular character, she is the very heart and soul of the film, the literal centre of the film (it is rare for there to be a scene in which she isn't the central focal point).
Amelie carries the whole film and it is important that the audience like her and want her to succeed. I have heard that there are people who don't like the film Amelie (too cutesy, too twee, to unrealistic) however I defy anyone not to fall a little bit in love with the character of Amelie. Audrey Tautou plays her with a delicate undercurrent of fragility which sits along perfectly with a cheeky vixen side. The two sides interplay beautifully with each other, Amelie occasionally doing something to remind you that she isn't as naive as she may seem (see her set up the illicit sex scene in the toilets of the cafe, or her amused yet bored face during intercourse).

However more important than her innocence, more important than her naughty side is the fact that Amelie is a hopeless romantic. Her every action has an elegant beauty to it, she is trying to make the world a better place. It is daring and bold yet idealist and elegant. She is the epitome of a romantic figure. By which I don't mean Love in the conventional sense, though her actions are guided by a love of people, a love of the moment, a love of joy.

Amelie's personality is stunning and is brought out in the nuances of Tautou's face, flitting from wide eyed innocence to cheeky smile in a moment. Audrey Tautou is just beautiful in this film, she is shot in a way that seems as if Amelie radiates light and warmth. Amelie is supposed to be a person people want to be near to, and in this film Tautou has the right level of approachable stunningness to fit the role. It is very different to her most recent film. As Coco Chanel, she is still stunning (Audrey Tautou is a beautiful beautiful person) but doesn't feel a fraction as approachable as Amelie.

It is not just Amelie who has this approachable beauty, the whole of Paris seems to be tarred with the same overtly romantic rose-tinted brush. This is a world in which there is no litter in Paris, neither is there graffiti. In which the homeless don't accept change on a Sunday because they don't work on the Lord's day. In which the owners of sex shops pray to saints in order to find the colleague's missing bag.
There is no seedy underbelly to Paris in Amelie. It is a happy, trusting place. It is odd to think that this was a major point of contention for some people. The lack of realism in the film proving enough for people to snub the film. Yet this is clearly a fantasy. It presents adult sensibilities (like death, jealousy, sex) in a childish innocent way, it celebrates love at first sight, it advocates the existence of ghosts. This film is a fairytale and the last thing I want is for my fairy tales to be like La Haine or *shudder* Irreversible.

All of this risks to make a very saccharine film, however it is all delivered with an oddly dry and dark sense of humour. Most of this is delivered by the excellent narration of André Dussollier. I have a love hate relationship with narration, most of the time I think it is a bit lazy, a cop out way of telling part of the story which should be conveyed through ACTING. However, when done well it is a brilliant tool.
Here it is done well, telling the full depth of Amelie's story - from the tragically comic back story (Amelie's mother being killed by a suicidal Quebecois jumping off a church and landing on her) to the little intricacies which help build up the audience's connection to Amelie's world (each character is introduced with a cutaway explaining their secret likes and dislikes).

The voice over helps to create this fairytale version of Paris and... like all true fairytales, at the heart of this story is a romance.
Amelie falls instantly with a man who collects discarded passport photos (Nino). It is here we see a new side to Amelie. For whilst she spends the majority of the film doing good things unto others, she can't seem to bring herself to give herself what she wants. Her plot to meet and woo Amelie becomes more and more convoluted, she introduces more and more steps into the process so that whenever you think the two are finally going to get together, she adds a new obstacle.
This is something that she is aware of. She speaks to people about it. Her every conversation with the Glass Man are about this very fact (although hidden by a medium of talking about a figure in the Renoir painting the Glass Man obsesses over). It isn't until the Glass Man goes out of his way to push Amelie into action that we finally get Amelie and Nino together rather than separated by the obstacles which Amelie deliberately creates for herself.

I'm so happy when the two characters finally got together. Partly because every single strand of the film (and there are many) is there to build up the characters. For most of the film you just want Amelie to be happy, but Nino's plot lines (the ghost in the passport photo machine) are so impressive that they build layers of depth into him. As Amelie gets more and more curious, so does the viewer.
So it is so rewarding to see them get together, it is also rewarding because Nino isn't the most attractive man in the world and Audrey Tautou is very pretty.

That ending relates to me.

It fills me with hope.

1 comment:

PhilH said...

I finally bought Amelie a few days ago. Love it.

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