Saturday, August 11, 2012

Film Analysis: Amelie is a Masterpiece of French Cinema

I greatly enjoyed the French film Amelie (2001) the first time I saw it about eight years ago. I could relate on an emotional level to many of the themes of the story. This was obviously a work of art, created by someone who has a passion for the craft of film making. The story is emotional, lovely, whimsical and a delight, but also it was the look of the film that drew me in. No wonder it was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including best cinematography. It was also nominated for a BAFTA award (Great Britain) and a Cesar (France) in the same category. The special features had a vignette that discussed the look of Amelie. The quote from the director, Jean Pierre Jeunet, spoke volumes about his work as an artist. He said "Nothing is difficult for me when making a film. I love so much to make. That's my reason to live." If only everyone felt that way about their career. It was pointed out that the look of the film had a lot to do with the saturation of colors. When watching the film I noticed that the color green was used extensively. As a complement, red was used as well, sometimes with a single blue object in the frame, like a blue lamp in a couple of cases. The director was influenced by a Brazilian painter named Fabio Marcelo who did the same thing. That painter uses vibrant colors much like one of my favorites, Romero Britto, who I have written about in an earlier blog post. In the vignette it was discussed how certain shots utilized a moving camera, but other shots used a fixed camera since the movement would disrupt from the emotional connection. The film Amelie was story boarded extensively, so the cast and crew knew exactly what to do when the arrived on set. I will give a synopsis of the film, detailing some of the key scenes and commenting on the emotional underpinnings of the work.

Amelie is a French girl, shy, timid and sheltered. She grew up with a father who is a doctor. She had very little affection as a child so the only time he touched her was when he gave her a physical exam. Her heart would race when he examined her, so he figured she had a heart condition. Due to this she was home schooled, which led to a childhood of isolation where her only friend was a fish. The little girl found ways to amuse herself and retreated into a world of imagination. She enjoyed the simple things in life, such as skipping stones on a pond. Her parents were the same way and her dad liked to empty out his tool box and re-arrange everything. Her mom liked to dump out her purse and re-arrange the contents. Young Amelie gets a camera and starts taking pictures of the world around her. She is sensitive and solemn.

Fast forward to the present, and Amelie works as a waitress at the Two Windmills Cafe. The film looks at her unusual co-workers, one of which is a hypochondriac. She goes to a movie every week and takes pleasure in watching the faces behind her of the movie patrons enjoying the show. She is single and lonely. A key character is a man in her building who has a disease where his bones are very brittle, so he must stay inside all day, otherwise he may break a bone. He is like a man made of glass, too fragile to take any chances. He paints a Renoir painting over and over, once per year, trying to get every detail just right. Amelie is living a life not much different than his, with her fragile heart made of glass, too delicate to risk emotional rejection from a male companion.

Amelie has a life changing experience when she finds a box hidden behind a loose tile in her bathroom. Inside are relics from a childhood: a toy car, a toy bike, a photograph, etc. She will find the owner of the box and return it to him. She finds out his name and leaves the box in a phone booth where the owner will find it. When he finds it, he is emotional and excited since the box takes him back to his childhood. Amelie feels wonderful since she has helped someone to find happiness. She feels a sense of harmony and elation. She feels like an outcast so much of the time but this makes her feel like she has done something special for someone else. One of the main themes of the film is that she works hard at helping others but in turn, neglects her own needs.

Her father has a garden gnome which he paints and takes care of. Amelie is jealous of the attention that the statue receives and she steals it. Later, the father gets pictures in the mail of the gnome at world landmarks as he travels the globe. I had to wonder if this film is what made the travel company, Travelocity, use the roaming gnome as their mascot.

Amelie does not like to see anyone mistreated. She notices that the neighborhood grocer is mean to his employee, belittling him in front of customers. Amelie gets her revenge by going into the grocer's apartment when he is not home and playing practical jokes on him. She swaps his slippers with a pair that are a size smaller, she sets his alarm clock for 4 a.m., she puts sugar in his wine, and other tricks that make him feel like he is losing his mind.

She finds a photo album full of pictures taken in a photo booth at the train station. She seeks out the owner of the album and returns it to him. But, she did not turn it over to him personally, she sends him on a wild goose chase, following different clues until he finally gets it back. There is a scene where Amelie (Audrey Tautou) has large dark sunglasses and a scarf on her head where she looks similar to Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. Whether this was an homage to that film or not, I don't know.

Amelie wants to meet this man and develops an interest in him but even when she comes up with an elaborate scheme for them to meet, she chickens out and lets her fear get in the way of love. Toward the end of the film, the glass man sends her a video tape telling her to go for what she wants in life. She is not glass like him, and she needs to take chances. He tells her to go to the man she loves. Her crush had come to her door once but she did not open it. After she watched the video by the glass man she went to her door to go after him and he was there. They embrace, and the film ends with them riding though Paris on a scooter together, the look of joy on each of their faces.

This film is a delight. It is a feast for the eyes and the performance by Audrey Tautou was spot on. Amelie has a sense of mischief, whimsy and wonder. It is a celebration of life and love. Melancholy at times, yes, but the main theme is that life is too short, go after what you want. We are not made of glass. Even a broken heart will mend over time.
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