i enjoy figuring out how things work and analysing is like taking apart a clock to see what makes it tick. only by identifying each component and understanding the part it plays in making the wheels turn, are we able to see what is necessary, what is redundant and what is simply brillant. i yearn to be overwhelmed by wit and beauty and grace, and the thrill at discovering something ingenious, seeing how others are able to make constraints work for, instead of against them, that never grows old…
this assignment was done with a classmate, michael chung, for a film studies class. for such a short paper and presentation, we figured that it was more effective to focus on one main point and have everything lead into it, after some discussion, we settled on the following argument…and if you see shades of joseph campbell, you’re not wrong…
Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain
(The fabulous destiny of Amelie Poulain)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Released on 2001
Largely within the comedic genre
Set in the picturesque town of Montmartre, home to many impoverished artists such as Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso, this light-hearted fare was a notable departure for acclaimed French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Famed for the dark and twisted elements in his previous feature films “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children”, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s break with long-time collaborator Marc Caro, led to the production of this vivacious, whimsical tale.
Though canned by Cannes Film Festival, “Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” attained both commercial and critical success and went on to win many awards, including best film at the European Film Awards, four César Awards and two BAFTA Awards. It also garnered multiple nominations for the 2001 Academy Awards.
Played to perfection by French ingenue Audrey Tautou, this is a story about a young woman, so introverted that she exists in her own self-contained realm, separate from the outside world that she experiences in vivid colours and textures.
Audrey Tautou as Amelie Poulain
This is a reflection of her childhood where she was largely confined to her house and the world beyond was out of her reach and appeared to be filled with wondrous things. She takes pleasure in the little things in life because of her fascination with the outside world.
Her lack of contact with the outside world has led to her feeling out of touch with reality and she ends up observing the world and people around her instead of interacting with them.
Often times, the director would bring the viewer into Amelie’s inner world by showing her point of view through the lens of the camera. This technique perfectly captured her sense of detachment from the world around her.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet also employed the frequent use of close-ups to stress certain attributes. Right from the start of the film, close-ups were used to highlight the tight lips of Amelie’s aseptic father, as well as the nervous twitch of her neurotic mother. Having brought our attention to her parents’ extreme natures, we are able to better understand how Amelie ended up home-schooled, making imaginary friends and becoming fascinated with the outside world.
In addition, note how the film was shot as a picture. See the way the scenes were framed, each looked pretty as a postcard and reflected her status of an observer. Unique camera angles also reflected her quirky personality.
The director used, to great advantage, visual effects to emphasise a point. 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.
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.
Theme of Reflection:
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.
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.
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.
Being a Hero:
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.
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 actions.
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.
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.
Amelie’s latest deed, gentle and subtle, signalled her entry into the world of grown ups, a world of failures and regret, a world of opportunities and true love.