"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

October 25, 2011

"Amélie" (Film review)

Amélie (original French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain aka The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain) took France by storm when it came out in 2001 and I was eager to see this film about which I had heard such a lot of good things. Well, it was a big let-down, as the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet just drenches his audience in false cliches and stereotypes. Amélie is as fake as the unrealistic colors and cheap TV-commercial-type effects with which it has been filmed, as if by the lavish use of color filters the director could force it to become a real fairy tale.

Amélie tells the story of a shy, young woman (Audrey Tautou), working as waitress in a Montmartre cafe, who unloved as a child, gradually opens herself to the world around her, spreading good influence to others. This is shown in various episodes: kindling a romance between the hypochondriac, chronically sick middle-aged tobacco lady of the cafe where Amélie works and a customer; faking a letter to convince the unhappy concierge of her building that the husband who abandoned her and later died in South America in fact did love her; and supporting Lucien, the mentally-challenged assistant of the locally greengrocer, who is being bullied by his boss.

The problem is that these people are just grotesque - as are others in the film, like the painter with the brittle bones who never leaves his room and continually sits copying Renoir, or the boyfriend Amélie finally finds, who has the weird hobby of collecting torn-up photos from the booths in the station where automatic pass-photo's can be taken.

The film is full of oddities, for example when people are introduced we get a voice-over telling us about their likes and dislikes and invariably these are weird things like unpacking a toolkit and packing it again, hating shriveled skin on the fingers when taking a hot bath etc. It is all so irrelevant...

The Paris of the film is even worse than grotesque, it is a never-never-land. We get cosy Montmartre street scenes from the fifties (even then non-existent), as if we were back in An American in Paris. Multicultural Paris has been sanitized and is presented as a city (or rather, village) where only native French live together in good harmony. Of course, this film is a fairy tale, but your dreams tell on you.

As the film rolled on, I got not only fed up with the silly cutesy story and the reactionary image of Paris, but also with the snug reds and greens, the tiring TV-commercial effects (like showing a beating heart under Amelie's sweater when she was excited), and the unnecessary zooms and tracking shots probably intended to keep the PlayStation generation awake.