During this year’s Ebertfest, Paul Cox shared something important as a filmmaker and film lover while introducing his Force of Destiny. That, “We cannot live in a world without conscience.” And that he thinks, “a film really burns inside you when it sticks to your bones and goes home with you and changes your life and makes you think and feel and remember.” Long after having first experienced this treat of a film, Amélie often sneaks back into my mind and my heart to tickle my nose and make me smile.
Three minutes into the picture, Amélie bestowed upon me a gift of familiarity and warmth as the narrator introduced its story’s characters. What a feeling, seeing a stranger partake in the myriad of ways my fingertips entertained me as a child--simple pleasures that I thought so personal and uniquely my own. A grin wiped across my face at seeing her peel glue off of them, eat raspberries off of them, and flutter them.
Amélie is very much like a children’s book. Like a children’s book, it has all of that childlike wonder which made our then-ignorant hearts cling to those colorful pages and savor them at each turn. And it is through this lens that we are able to enjoy the picture: with a sense of naiveté. The characters are described in terms of things they love and they hate, the lurid photography is drenched in rich hues that massage our eyes, its score seems lugubrious but hopeful, and the narrator’s appreciation for the sense of touch allows us to enjoy the comforts of rubbing an endive on one’s cheek, fingering a roasted chicken carcass, or dipping one's finger in a sack of grain. Amélie’s sensuousness is both blatant and satisfying. And as we have already been wooed into this storybook-like world of Jean Pierrot, we are accepting of the obvious ways he portrays emotion. Like seeing the heart under her breast thumping in an aura of red and orange or her melting into a puddle at the sight of her beau leaving the cafe. They are the conventional ways that we describe moments like these, but why is it that they are never just put on screen that way?
I am partial to Jeunet’s use of on-screen narration. There are a plethora of pictures with fantastic uses of this technique. Often, however, it is a character from the story itself narrating the tale. Jeunet’s narrator, on the other hand, seems removed but somehow more present than others. Similar to Godard’s narrator in Bande á part. He lives inside of every breath, every footstep, every tire screech. He understands the characters of his tale better than the characters do themselves. He sounds like one of our elders. And he unfolds this story of love and life in such a way that no words are too much or too little.
More important, however, is the depiction of Amélie Poulain herself. Audrey Tautou’s character is strikingly malleable and she dances on the fine line of girlhood and womanhood, as do all the other elements of the film. She’s got a childish grin at times, even as she is having sex. And other times, she’s got the confident stare of a woman in charge of herself and those around her. She sleeps in sexy lace slips, but wears oversized oxfords and long chiffon skirts to work. She revels in the pleasures of mischievous matchmaking and scavenger hunts, but also cries at the thought of her loneliness. Amelié Poulain is a lovely balance of sexy and adorable. She is both woman and girl, as the film is youthfully mature.
I can speak endlessly about why, stylistically, Amélie was such a great picture. However, it goes far beyond beautiful color, sound, and even character juxtaposition.
It is the universe through Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s eyes that is vastly optimistic, as it should be. There is beauty in this world to be seen in everything we do and touch and feel. There is beauty to be seen in everyone we meet. And there is work to be done to help out wherever this optimism is lacking. Whether it’s finding our Dominique Brotodeu and getting him to finally reach out to his kids through an old time capsule or humbling a grouchy entrepreneur. I’m an advocate of the fairytale-like lens of Jean-Pierre Jeunet with which he sees the world for this reason. Because life's too short for cynicism.