new survey from the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) found that U.S.
feature films account for more than two-thirds of all movies broadcast on
European channels. European films make up just under a third of movies
broadcast” (Roxborough, 2017). At the times of Hollywood dominating European
cinema not only in the actual cinemas, but also at people’s homes through their
televisions, it is really rare for a European film to gain international
recognition. And if one does that does not happen often. One of those
exceptions is a twenty-first century star film Amélie (2001). “This film is part of an exceptionally
successful season of French comedies which have pushed domestic cinema’s share
of the market past Hollywood’s for the first time since 1986” (Vincendeau, Ginette, 2001). This film was
commercially and critically successful and won many awards, such as nominations
for the 2001 Academy Awards, four Cesar Awards, two BAFTA awards and the
European Film Awards. When it was realised, Amélie immediately captured the hearts of the world to the same extent that the
artist did much later. The film and Audrey Tautou became instantly
recognizable. Even today this film continues to have a huge following as the
highest-grossing French language film in the United States. So, what is so special
about this film and why did it gain international recognition?
Amélie is a French language romance comedy film from 2001 about a young woman
strangely enough called Amélie. The first and most important part, that makes
this film stand out and step by step led it to be internationally recognized is
the world of Amélie. She is a shy, Parisian waitress, who decides one day to
suddenly start to orchestrate the lives of the people around her. Amélie’s
character is so introverted, that she lives in her own world, where she does
not really have a contact with the rest of the world. Instead of interacting
with other people she analysis and observes everything around her, which leads
her to a feeling of being out of touch with reality, but keep her really fascinated
with the world around her, where she can find pleasures in the smallest things,
like sinking her hand in grain. “Amélie is one of those
films that never stops reassuring the audience that it’s on their side, taking
them firmly by the hand and leading them” (Bonnaud, 2011) to
the world of hers. And it is so mesmerizing and unique, that it attracts even
the dullest people. Amélie delivers merely a pleasurable fantasy of infantile satisfactions (Dudley, 2004,
Jean-Pierre Jeunet wrote the part of Amélie for a British actress Emily Watson,
but apparently her French was not up to scratch and she had scheduling
conflicts. So, the role ultimately went to the young and very lovely Audrey Tautou.
Probably, many people could not even imagine this film without her in it now. The
film is incredibly light and playful and the performance Audrey Tautou gives in
it complements the surroundings of the film and we get to know every nuance of
her character commonly told to us through an incredibly long narration sequence
that intermittently pops up throughout the film. Tautou runs with it with all
sorts of playful glances of the camera and has subtle movements that spell out
a whole load of emotion. This film needed a likeable actress for the audience
to really buy into the quirky world that Jean-Pierre Jeunet sets up and Audrey
Tautou passes with flying colours.
Amélie is a whole host of supporting characters that make up the microcosm that
is Montmartre. And every one of them seems to have a slight personality
disorder that this film only exaggerates for comic effect. We have a jealous
ex-boyfriend, who records all his ex’s movements on a little tape recorder. And
then we have a tragic figure of the “glass man”, who never leaves his flat.
Throughout the film Amélie sets about surreptitiously changing little details
in their life that she thinks will make their life better. It is not so hard to
tell that this film is definitely on the whimsical side.
and style- Camera work
is an incredibly stylish European film with some amazingly expressive camera
angles and movements. and also, a use of computer-generated imagery that could
be said is incredibly endearing. It adds a cartoonish element to the film that
harks back to perhaps the early days of French silent cinema.
face is colour graded, flattened, and often distorted by wide-angle
cinematography” (Peters, 2011, 1042). The cinematography style, unusual camera angles
director used is to show Amelie’s secret inner world, the way she sees it and
her strange quirky personality. By this, you can see how seriously she is
separated from the real world. The way she is not looking at everything as a
whole, as usually protagonists do in Hollywood films, but noticing the small
details. “The Surrealists,
just like Amélie, used to scan the movie screen, hunting for details unseen
even by the director, exercising what Christian Keathley has dubbed “panoramic
perception.”” (Dudley, 2004, 35) In addition, to understand why she is like
that we would need to look back at her childhood. Jean-Pierre Jeunet used many
close-ups to make a point and let us notice things a viewer would not usually
see. For example, in the begging of the film, in Amelie’s childhood shots,
close-ups were used, when showing girl’s aseptic father’s tight lips. The same
case is with her mother, when showing how nervous she is with a close-up of her
nervous twitch. It all sums up to an understanding of why she became interested
in exploring the outside world, found herself imaginary friends and never went
to a real school, but taught by her mother at home. Moreover, it is interesting
how the film it itself, it looks like a picture. Director framed the scenes in
a way that they seemed like a photo album, which Amelie was looking at, showing
her introverted and special way of looking into world.
What is more, Jean-Pierre Jeunet Jean-Pierre Jeunet had an idea that “each shot must make its impact instantly. This
means there can be no extraneous action in the frame, no competing visual
features—”one idea per shot” being his motto” (Dudley, 2004, 41). To outline his
idea he used quite a lot of visual effects. For example,
In the scene where
Nino (her love interest) left her cafe and seemingly out of her life, it was
not enough for Amelie to appear devastated. Amelie was shown to literally
dissolve into a pool of discarded water.
Amelie melting in disappointment.
To actually visually realise the metaphor of Amelie dissolving into a pool
of water was a brilliant touch in providing us an insight into the eccentric
yet intense nature of her emotions. Another great use of visual effects to
actualise a metaphor was in the scene where Amelie solved the riddle of the
mystery man. We were shown the torn fragments of his photograph fitted together
in order to form a picture of his complete face. A metaphor for Amelie putting
the pieces of a puzzle together.
Solving the mystery of
the man in the photos.
Besides using visual
effects to illustrate a metaphor, the director also employed the people, places
and props around her to embody a recurring theme of reflection. In the cafe
where she worked, we saw how Amelie was able to write on the glass in reverse
so easily, reflecting her inverse outlook on life.
Amelie deftly engaging in mirror writing.
The introduction of Glassman served as a perfect reflection of Amelie’s
insecurities and inadequacies. A man with brittle bones who entombed himself in
his apartment, Glassman forced Amelie to confront the truth about herself.
Being cooped up at home for much of her childhood, she was as socially awkward
as he was. They both derived pleasure from observing the world around them from
the safety of their own protected sanctums, Amelie from her inner world and
Glassman from his apartment. Even their voyeuristic tendencies were portrayed
similarly by their mutual use of spyglasses.
Amelie and Glassman spying on each other.
Another prominent feature of the movie is the use of black and white videos
to represent Amelie’s thoughts. These images are visualisations of how she
views herself, reflections of her inner world. While the outside world is
colourful and vibrant, her inner world is in black and white, which reflects
the past and how her childhood still has a strong hold on her. While she is
different from the people around her, she sees herself as special, rather than
an outcast. The Glassman forces her to acknowledge that she has not done
anything really special and she decides to find some meaning in her life. She
turns to vigilante activities. She begins seeing herself as an ally of justice.
Black and white videos
of Amelie’s thoughts
She started by carrying
out commendable actions – helping a man recover his childhood treasures and
memories, helping a blind man across the street – but her good deeds soon
devolved into pranks, whereby she employed deception as a tool. She succumbed
to the fallacy that the ends justify the means. She suffered from the hubris of
thinking that she could fix the cracks in other people’s lives. Some of her
pranks were kind, such as Amelie forging a love letter to a heartbroken lady,
and some not so kind, such as Amelie sabotaging the mean grocer’s apartment.
Forging letter and spiking brandy.
Some of her pranks were pure mischief (sending her father’s garden gnome
round the world) and some were downright meddlesome (trying to matchmake two
lonely people). These pranks show that Amelie had no real moral compass because
she had no qualms about misleading or deceiving others. This reflected her
childlike nature, whereby she did not understand the consequences of her
Kidnapping a gnome and playing matchmaker.
However, pranks also led her to finding her soulmate. Nino was a guy as
quirky as she was, someone who saw the world differently as well. He loved
puzzles, fitting the pieces together. So, in order to attract his attention,
Amelie made herself into a puzzle for Nino to solve.
Amelie meets Nino and
Journey to Adulthood:
However, like a child afraid of being rejected, she
thought that she could spare herself pain by refusing to commit, by not putting
herself or her feelings on the line. But she would soon realise that the regret
of letting slip a golden opportunity was no less difficult to endure than the
pain of rejection. She learnt that the one’s whose life she needed to fix was
her own. The heart she needed to heal was her own. Understanding that happiness
is something one should grasp with one’s own hands, she finally opened her
heart and leapt into the great unknown.
As the great playwright J. M. Barrie noted, “children
are gay, innocent and heartless”. Opening her heart to pain and sorrow, but
also to love, Amelie’s attainment of a life with her beloved Nino is concrete
proof that Amelie had reached emotional maturity.
Importance of Mentors:
The unique relation between people who were once
strangers is amply illustrated here. As with Amelie’s chance encounter with
Nino, both united in their wacky pursuits, both going through unnecessary
lengths to resolve vigilante causes (Amelie) or puzzles (Nino). Or with
Amelie’s growing affection for a formerly remote neighbour (Glassman), where
they ended up developing a pseudo father-daughter relationship.
As the Glassman nudged Amelie to take stock of her
emotions and feelings for Nino, in our own life journeys, we cannot help but
wish that – in our weakest moments or facing major milestones when we are
uncertain or too cowardly to commit – someone would give us a gentle nudge or hard
push forward to help us along.
The journey of childlike pranks and ideology ended
with the first blush of emotional and hormonal maturity. Towards the end of the
film, we see a sentence from a little-read book scrawled on a public wall. The
author of those words, a regular patron of Amelie’s cafe, was shaken out his
jaded despondency at the sight of a quote by an anonymous fan. The spring in
his step as he walked away was unmistakable.
France as a romantic city
In a sense, Amélie depends on the
maniacal cataloguing of signifiers of a caricature France: Jeunet nails every
“feature prominent use of totemic Parisian imagery to
situate their narratives, and invite us to travel to a “Paris” born of
collective memory” (Van de Ven, 2010)
„Most of Amélie’s shots are
marked with distinct beginning and ending points to allow neighbouring shots to
couple in a train of micro-occurrences. The soundtrack emphasizes this tactic,
as virtually every scene and many individual shots
conclude with audible finality” (Dudley, 2004).
In what follows, I want to
suggest that the formal properties of the close-up embodied in Jeunet s film
share something of the contradictions that lie at the heart of debates around
national identity in France at the start of the twenty-first century. Because
it opens a critical distance between what it shows us and our abstract
understanding of what we cannot see, while at the same time drawing us near in
an appeal to the intimacy of our senses, the close-up holds in place
simultaneously the rational and the sentimental features of the French national
ideal. As Roland Barthes put it with regard to the face of Greta Garbo in a
famous essay whose title inspires this one, the cultural force of the celebrity
face shot in close-up derives from a structure both intellectual and affective,
at once of the idea and of the bod