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Monday, February 27, 2012

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain

In all of the Monday Matinees that I have done, I've focused on a lot of different kinds of films. I've featured romantic comedies, gripping dramas, horror films, animated films, film classics, and even films that were based on true stories.

The reason why I wanted to focus on a wide selection of movies on this blog. To give the blog a little bit of variety.

But, looking back, there's one genre of film that in the nine months since I started this blog I've never featured. I've never done a feature on a foreign film.

(And, no, any entry that I have featured on Harry Potter doesn't quite qualify as a foreign film.)

I'm talking about films that are screened at places like the Cannes Film Festival. Films that are often nominated for Academy Awards, but yet you yourself might not have actually seen them (or even heard of them for that matter).

Some of these films are quite brilliant. They tell a wonderful story, have characters you can really believe in, and they don't believe in using explosions or violence to move the story along.

(Well, unless you happen to be watching a foreign film that is SUPPOSED to have explosions and/or violence in them.)

Today's featured film doesn't have explosions or violence in them. It's a brilliant tale of a young woman living in France who makes the selfless decision to try and help improve the lives of everybody around her, from people who have known her all their lives to random strangers. During the course of the film, she also begins to understand why she is the way that she is, and by the end of the film, she makes some definite conclusions about who she is.

I even remember where I was when I saw this film for the first time. I was in Ottawa at the time, and the movie was playing at one of the many specialty movie houses that were in the city during 2001. The movie had come out that November, and I ended up watching it as part of a class that I was taking. Although the movie was entirely in French, it did come with subtitles. And, I know some people hate going to movies where you're forced to read, but for me, I appreciated knowing what was happening. By the end, I was thinking that the movie was a great film, and I left the theater with nothing but positive experiences.

In France, the movie had the title “Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie', but internationally, the film had the simpler title of “Amélie”.

Amélie is a French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and starred Audrey Tautou (who some of you might remember from her role in “The Da Vinci Code”), as the character of Amélie Poulain, a twenty-three year old waitress in Montmartre, Paris, France. The film was released in France in April 2001, and seven months later screened in America.

The film itself was critically acclaimed, and did very well at the box office. It won Best Film at the European Film Awards, was the winner of four César Awards, won two BAFTA Awards, and was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The film begins as we meet Amélie. She's a beautiful young woman with a whimsical personality and a vibrant imagination. However, Amélie grew up feeling quite lonely. She grew up feeling isolated from other children her age (something this blogger can definitely identify with). The fact that she lost her mother when she was quite young, and her father became increasingly withdrawn as a result certainly didn't help matters much.

But Amélie (much like this blogger) found ways to hide her loneliness through her active imagination. After all, if the world around you isn't the way that you'd like it to be, you can always create your own world to imagine yourself in. It's great therapy, when you look at it that way.

So, Amélie became a young woman who was incredibly shy and who finds pleasure in simple things. She has had some dating experience, but they all ended in disappointment, and Amélie works as a waitress at a French café called Café des 2 Moulins, a place where the staff is just as eccentric as the people who dine there.

Right from the get-go, we find out exactly when this film is set when Amélie discovers the news of Princess Diana's death on television (as you might know, Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed were killed in a car accident inside a Parisian tunnel on August 31, 1997 following a high speed chase involving members of the paparazzi), and is immediately shocked. At the time, she is holding a bottle cap which she drops. The bottle cap hits a tile in the bathroom wall and loosens it. When Amélie removes the tile that was loosened, she is surprised to find a small metal box hidden behind it. Inside the box is a collection of childhood toys and knick-knacks from a young boy who lived in her apartment years earlier.

Amélie, upon discovering the box, decides that the right thing to do would be to return the box to its rightful owner. Even though the boy was now a man, she resolved to make it happen. At the same time, she issued a promise to herself. If she could successfully track down the owner of the box, and make him happy as a result of returning the box, then she will take it as a sign that she is meant to spend the rest of her life helping bring happiness to others.

She sets about on her quest to return the box. The first person that she happens to meet is her reclusive neighbour, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin). Dufayel is a skilled artist, but his recent work seems to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque rut, as he keeps painting the same thing over and over again – a Renoir piece entitled “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. He's also given the nickname of 'The Glass Man', due to a condition he has which caused his bones to become brittle. With his help, Amélie manages to locate the owner of the box...but rather than deliver the box to him face to face, Amélie decides on a different, more whimsical method.

It is within that moment that Amélie realizes that the promise that she made to herself would now have to be honoured. Helping Dominique Bretodeau reach an epiphany within his life has caused our young heroine to have an epiphany of her own.

She resolves to be the guardian angel towards everyone she meets. She wants to help others, but in secret. And, this is where her imaginative streak serves to assist her.

Through various schemes and plots that are intricate and complex, Amélie manages to impact the lives of people around her, which lead to several sub-plots throughout the film.

One of the first things that she does is assists a blind man to the Metro station, and during the course of the walk, she vividly describes the world around them in every possible detail.

She assists her own father when he talks about his dream of seeing the world, but not knowing exactly how he can do it. It is then that Amélie comes up with a plan to encourage her father to follow his dream by doing something incredibly sneaky. She decides to steal a prized possession from her father's garden, a blue cloaked garden gnome. Having a friend who works as an airline stewardess, she persuades her to take the gnome with her to every destination the plane that she works on stops in. Then every so often, photos of the gnome standing in front of world landmarks are sent to her father through the mail.

(Hmmm...I wonder if this film was the source for the popular Travelocity advertisements...)

Amélie also seems to enjoy playing the role of matchmaker, as she sets up a frequent customer at the café she works at with one of her co-workers. She gets to talking with the concierge of the apartment building she lives in and when the concierge reveals that her husband abandoned her, Amélie manages to locate proof that her husband had tried to send a final letter, hoping to reconcile with her before his death. Amélie even helps out a young grocery clerk named Lucien who is bullied by his boss, Mr. Collignon by playing practical jokes on the man. I guess one could also say that Amélie made sure that people got bad karma as well as good karma, but only if they deserved it.

All this is well and good, and Amélie certainly got great joy out of helping other people find happiness.

But, what about Amélie's own happiness? What was she doing to make sure that she was helping herself?

After a series of conversations with Dufayel (including the significance of the young girl drinking the glass of water in the various copies of the paintings Dufayel was working on), Amélie realizes that she has to examine her own life.

You see, during Amélie's quest to make the world a better place, she keeps encountering a man whose hobby seems to be raiding passport photo booths for discarded photographs. A man that Amélie has developed a liking for. Problem is that Amélie seems to lack the confidence and courage to even introduce herself to him. She discovers that the man is named Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz) after he accidentally drops his photo album on the street after bumping into him. The film then tracks Amélie through the streets of Paris, looking for Nino.

So, does she track Nino down? Does she give him back the album? Does she admit her feelings for him? Does she live happily ever after?

You really expect me to tell you? Watch it yourself!

No, seriously, watch Amélie for real. Don't let the idea of the film having subtitles scare you away. It really is a remarkable film to watch, and it will leave you feeling all sorts of wonderful feelings. Well, at least it did for me, anyways.

I can't speak for what other people got out of the film, but I can certainly tell you what I got out of the film. In many ways, I'm like Amélie...only in the male form and without a French accent. Though I do have a French last name, which at the very least is something.

Like Amélie, I was a very lonely child, who didn't really feel like he fit in to a lot of places, and like Amélie I had a wild imagination that I used as an escape from the loneliness. I used to read Archie Comics and wish that I was inside of them because to me, Riverdale was a place where everyone knew everyone and where people were respected for who they were and not for what they looked like. So, I can definitely identify with Amélie in that regard.

But, I can also identify with what Amélie was doing as well. She was so focused on trying to make other people happy that her own happiness kind of got placed on the back burner. Of course, she did get some feeling of satisfaction and joy in helping the people that she did, but she never could find a way to convince herself that she deserved to help herself become happy.

And, you know, I'm a lot like her in that regard.

I think that's the message that I got from Amélie. That you can spread your love to other people all you want and feel good about it...but that you shouldn't overlook yourself in that equation. And, sometimes, you have to take chances and realize that the only person standing in the way of that happiness that you want so much may very well be yourself.

I'm getting better at learning that lesson. Not quite there yet, but I am improving. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll find someone's photo album on the street, and it will lead me to my own destiny. I guess as long as I'm still alive, there's always time.

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