A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 336 – Amelie

Amelie – January 30th, 2011

It’s so very strange not to be watching a Star Trek movie right now. It feels bizarre, to be honest. After two weeks of them, I feel slightly bereft without them. But I suppose I have the entirety of TNG to pop in if I want. Maybe later. For now it’s time for a movie, and we decided that sine we’ve spent the past two weeks watching American science fiction we’re incredibly familiar with, tonight we should watch something different. Something subtitled and foreign. Something one or both of us hadn’t seen before. Well, Andy’s seen this one, but I hadn’t, so it fits the bill. It’s certainly been an overhype victim for me. And I will admit now, having seen it, I was a fool to leave it so long.

Having seen ads and trailers and heard glowing review after glowing review, I expected something overly twee that might end up making me roll my eyes a bit. What can I say? I’m a cynic much of the time. I expected whimsical and sweet and quirky. And oh, yes, I got all of that. Sentimental too. I expected sentimental. And really, the movie is all of these things. And being all of these things, it might have been rather difficult to make it also something that entertained me. I have a low tolerance for twee. Yet somehow this movie manages to be entirely made of whimsy and sentiment and not feel like it’s sagging under the weight of too much frill and frippery.

The movie is ostensibly the story of a young woman named Amelie. She was raised in a somewhat solitary setting, taught at home by her mother until her mother’s death. She lives her life much inside her own mind, filling the world around herself with fantasies. Until one day she finds a tin hidden in her apartment and sets out to find the man who hid it decades ago when he was a boy. In doing so she opens up a whole new path for herself, finding little ways to help those around her. She sets up a coworker with a regular customer. She forges a letter to console a neighbor about her long deceased husband. She goes about a number of little quests to make other lives happier. Which is why I say the movie is only ostensibly about Amelie.

Yes, the movie is, from beginning to end, her story. It’s about this young woman and her life and how she goes from solitary to connected without losing what makes her special. That one first quest leads her to meeting her neighbors, making friends with them, finding out about their lives and little dramas. She pays more attention to her coworkers and reaches out to them. She’s always found joy in little things, but now those little things involve people, not just objects. She even finds a way to help her father without ever letting him know it’s her. In fact, most of the things she does she manages to keep anonymous. Only one person really figures out what she’s up to and then he helps her when she finds a young man and pursues him only to realize that she can’t bring herself to stop being anonymous. But in and among all of her stories are the stories of everyone else. The movie takes a step out here, a moment there, showing us and telling us the backgrounds of everyone involved. So it’s the story not just of a young woman, but of the entire intangible social network that builds around her.

To be honest, I’m still processing the movie even a couple of hours after it finished. I’m not entirely sure how it pulled itself off. While there’s mischief, and some decidedly negative attitudes in some of the characters, the focus of the movie itself is so relentlessly positive one would think it would be too much on one side for me. And it wasn’t at all. It somehow maintains this pleasant and curious tone for two hours. All the little asides and stories, all of Amelie’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, they all come together to make this movie bizarrely delightful in a way I can’t argue with. I can’t find much fault with it aside from some quibbles with tonal changes between the storytelling in the beginning and the storyshowing near the end (I like both, but they don’t quite segue as smoothly as I’d like). It is simply a lovely movie, light and sweet but not cloying, which means it defied my expectations in all the right ways.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Amelie

January 30, 2011

Amelie

I bought this movie because it had the name Jean-Pierre Jeunet attached to it. Because City of Lost Children is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something bizarre and quirky and very French I suppose, which is just what I got.

There is much that is familiar about the style of this movie. There’s the storybook opening that introduces us to our cast of characters (providing us quick views of their likes and dislikes) and lets us know what kind of world we are in. There’s the subtle use of computer effects and animation to show us the characters’ imaginations or state of mind. There’s a lot of slick camera work and manipulation of the film speed to help tell the story.

The story is that of Amelie, a dreadfully introverted and private young woman with more imaginary friends than real ones. She’s a dreamer who decides one day that she wants to do good deeds and make the lives of those she meets better, but is still too shy to actually meet people, so she starts a campaign of doing good without being detected. It’s almost like a series of related short vignettes as Amelie helps all the various quirky people in her life. Still, she is lonely, and as the movie goes on she slowly begins to open up, meeting her extremely private shut-in neighbour and learning that she can make friends. She discovers a kindred spirit – another eccentric introvert – and woos him in the same introverted way that she has been trying to help others.

The world the movie takes place in is a sort of fantastic simpler version of our world. The town house where Amelie and her quirky collection of acquaintances live is a quaint, anachronistic place with door locks that use skeleton keys and a sort of Victorian feel. But people use micro tape recorders, video cameras and cordless phones with programed phone numbers. It’s a cleaner, brighter place than our hectic modern world of cell phones and PDAs, but is clearly meant to be a sort of modern day analogue.

The entire movie relies heavily on the elfin-faced Audrey Tautou, who plays the title character. Although there is an awful lot of expository monologue over the start of the film it is Audrey’s wide-eyed wonder and terror that sells the movie. She perfectly captures and emotes that dread that a true introvert feels when dealing with people. Her isolation and her desire to still interact with people is the central theme of the movie, and without Mademoiselle Tautou I can’t imagine this movie working.

And it does work. It’s a deceptively simple story about how we can touch other lives and make the world a better place. It says something about the power of dreams and aspirations. It’s a light-hearted love story about a pair of missfits looking for comfort and not really knowing what it is they want. It’s a playful fantasy – a modern fairy tale. As an introvert myself I can’t help but sympathise with Amelie and her complex schemes.

This movie is beautiful and enchanting and strange and fun. It’s a quirky and fun way to spend an afternoon, and it was delightful to watch it again tonight. It re-enforces for me how much I love the direction of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and it was fun to once again see him working with Dominique Pinon, and it’s a great introduction to Audrey Tautou. (I think whomever was responsible for ordering foreign films for Blockbuster must have fallen in love with Audrey as well, because of the twenty or so French films we had in the Hingham store about seven starred her.) Jeunet lives in a world of vivid dreams and imagination, and it’s a treat once in a while to be able to visit that world.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments