Jess Harris, General Manager of Picturehouse Central writes about Amélie, which is screening as part of our new Club Ciné strand showcasing the best of French cinema at Picturehouse Central on Sunday 6 November.
Following on from more off-the-wall titles like Delicatessen (1991) and The City Of Lost Children (1995), the 2001 release of Amélie was probably not what audiences expected to see next from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The film’s full title itself, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, conjures images of whimsical fantasy, a far cry from the grim settings of his previous films.
Jeunet’s films are recognisable for their distinct colour palette, washed in hues of yellow, green and red. Amélie is no exception to this: the protagonist herself is almost always seen wearing red throughout the film. Deep reds lend themselves to the romance of the story, whilst the exaggerated yellows and greens are the sepia-tinted colours of the film’s dreamed-up version of a perfect Paris.
From the very first scene it is obvious that every shot in this film has been painstakingly crafted. Nothing is left to chance. Every minute detail is a subtle brick in the construction of this idyllic re-imagining of the French capital. Yann Tiersen’s beautiful score is the perfect accompaniment to Jeunet’s unmistakable images as the opening scene whizzes the viewer through a number of simultaneous yet insignificant events unfolding in Paris, culminating in the birth of the eponymous Amélie (Audrey Tautou).
After discovering a tin filled with a child’s treasures in her bathroom, Amélie embarks on a mission to deliver it back to its rightful owner. Successful in her one small deed, an urge to help mankind comes over her and we follow Amélie through the streets of Paris as she performs random acts of kindness. Jeunet expertly weaves together the lonely and isolated characters who surround her, their regrets and heartaches eventually prompting her to stop suppressing her own loneliness by helping others.
Amélie’s shot at a happily ever after comes in the form of Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), who drops a photo album filled with discarded photo-booth images of strangers. An only child – deprived of attention and friendship – Amélie takes advantage of the opportunity to lure Nino, leaving a trail of mysterious clues that intrigue the similarly odd and lonely photo collector.
The game of cat and mouse is prolonged by Amelie’s sense of uncertainty about her actions and the possibility of rejection. The theme of loneliness and being an outsider runs deep in this film and throughout many of the characters, but the mood is buoyed by genius one liners delivered by a host of deadpan underdogs. Interjections from inanimate objects and photographs, which come to life to give advice to the main characters, also add some comic relief whilst building on the idea of the fantasy world Amélie lives in.
Jeunet is perhaps guilty of overindulging in the visual aspects of this film over the content, especially when compared with his previous work, but without doubt this is an uplifting and visually sumptuous film with a broad appeal far beyond the normal art-house demographic.
The film screens at Picturehouse Central on Sunday 6 November at 12.20pm.