by Javier Solórzano Casarin
“Amelie” (2001) * Original title “The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain”
France is a country of and by the senses. One of those places on the map that provide us with an extraordinary variety of colors, sounds, tastes, smells and sensations. French culture possesses a vast and ancient history, certainly sometimes it coincides with an arrogance or snobbery that many people dislike, but the contribution they have made to culture and the arts is indisputable.
The center of this cosmos of the senses is Paris, the city of light. A city where every neighborhood, every street, every corner beats with expressions of fashion, photography, literature, cinema, gastronomy, architecture, and so on; whirling around their immense and invaluable legacy in our world’s culture.
One of the favorite destinations of tourists and travelers from around the world, and as a constant reminder we can admire the photographs of Brassai or Kertész, the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, the voice of Edith Piaf, the films of Francois Truffaut, the poems of Jacques Prévert, “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo…
Paris is a place where the imagination, a refined palate and dreams complement one another.
A faithful companion of Parisian culture is irreverence. A kind of humor that is mischievous and sardonic but very charming as well. France and especially Paris have a reputation as a society with an irreverent attitude toward life.
All these elements add to the captivating style of one of the most memorable film of recent times, “Amelie” by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
To talk about Paris is to talk about Amelie Poulain, the central character played by Audrey Tatou. This is because the quartiers (neighborhoods) of the city are also vivid characters, they are not only geographical spaces but also fragments of the soul, the magical essence of Paris; spirited and romantic whispers that stem from the cobbled streets; the luminous corners, the intersections that reveal forbidden secrets.
One of these neighborhoods is Montmartre, one of the most celebrated in contemporary culture. The legendary site where great artists (Impressionists and Expressionists), laureated intellectuals, poets, singers, actors and stars from the burlesque world congregated, immersed in conversations about existence, love and art; populated by hundreds of bars, restaurants, small popular markets, streets on slopes, up and down like passageways. It is in this neighborhood where our protagonist Amelie, lives. Through her eyes the endearing peculiarities of Montmartre colorfully grow and expand.
A short, witty and poignant montage presents her childhood, the relationship with her parents as an only child, the habits and guilty pleasures of each of them and the complicated family relationship that leads to its inevitable climax with an attempted suicide by their pet fish. Amelie discovers the world since a very young age and she is eager to explore it.
Her father not knowing how to communicate with her daughter, wrongly diagnoses Amelie with a chronic heart disease and engages in an almost obsessive routine to care for her at every waking moment. The truth is that little Amelie doesn’t have any physical contact from her parents, so whenever her father touches her body, she feels a great deal of excitement. Carrying this imaginary fragility, Amelie grows suspicious of the intangible notion of happiness and dreams. Yet the delight in her surroundings persists, and her tireless voyeurism for the lyrical common life consumes her.
Against her instincts, Amelie confronts reality, attempting to find her own happiness and someone to share the adventure of life with.
Jeunet could easily fall into the temptation of following the archetypical romantic formula, but the exceptional intricacies of the script, the unpredictability of his characters and his brash and lavish sense of comedy, bound together by an extraordinary visual language, produce a delicious and fascinating concoction. The experience of the film constantly plays with our expectations, instead of telling us what to feel.
The fusion of charm and vulgarity can be tasted in several scenes as Amelie imagines fifteen simultaneous orgasms on the legendary Parisian roofs; her careful revenge against Monsieur Collignon, after he mistreats her friend Lucien in the vegetable shop; Joseph and Georgette having boisterous sex in the Café’s bathroom, causing a small tremor that plunges all the glasses and dishes at the bar… and always Amelie’s unique perspective: The feeling of cereal seeds between her fingers, breaking the crunchy crème brûlée’s surface with a spoon, the faces of the spectators in the cinema, skipping stones in the canal of Saint Martin — moments portrayed with the spectacular photography by Bruno Delbonnel, the beautiful music by Yann Tiersen and the exquisite voice narration of André Dussollier. The ingredients of this marvelous feast, conjure up a film that speaks directly to the heart and soul.