Saturday, June 27, 2009
The movie, Amelie, takes a magic marker, draws a big question mark over its heart and asks, "Where and When?"
Daydreams and a vivid imagination inform Amelie who cannot otherwise piece together the formative events of her life (her mother was freakishly killed by a falling suicide who had jumped off a building). Events seem to happen When and Where they please. Amelie discovers, wedged in the wall boards of her apartment, an old tin of childhood toys that once belonged to the now middle aged former tenant who is estranged from his daughter - the toys recall for him that time - maybe the past can repair the present.
A young man, Nino, who works in an adult video store spends his afternoons painstakingly collecting discarded photo-booth portraits of strangers at the local train station. He pastes the torn photographs into a scrapbook in jig saw fashion trying to piece together the lives of strangers.
Amelie devises elaborate covert stratagems to set things right: from behind the scenes she teaches the mean shopkeeper a lesson; she plays matchmaker to the lonely woman working the cashier at the cafe, "The Two WindMills" (is she tilting at them in her quixotic journey?); she leaves a torn photo of herself in the photo-booth hoping that the scrapbook maker will piece the picture together and be able to read the note she holds up in the photo suggesting they meet.
He replies with his own photo - "Ou et Quand" - "Where and When?"
Ou et Quand? Amelie doesn't know. The portraits in the scrapbook are fragmented and mis construed - the lives do not make sense (yet). The work in an adult video store is not in the least bit exotic. The diabolical appearing man mysteriously photographing himself in the booth is in fact a simple repairman. The brow beaten assistant to the sadistic grocer has lost an arm. The painter endlessly copying an outdoor landscape paints in his apartment, shades drawn, with a video camera recording the clock outside so he can see the time projected on his TV. For him "Where" is somewhere else, "When" is not now.
When Amelie and the young scrapbook maker finally meet, he starts to talk, she raises her hand to his mouth to stop him from anxiously ruining the moment and kisses him, first the right corner of his mouth, next the corner of his neck, then each eyelid. He follows her lead, silently kissing her back... the four corners of her torn self portrait come together as "Where and When" is gently and sweetly answered - or is it?
Amelie uses a a kind of modern voodoo to control her world and the people who inhabit it. Abandoned through death by her mother and left with a cold and aloof father she retreats as a little girl (and young adult) into a magical world of her own making. She remains in her solitary world untouched, unloved, unharmed, until the radio reports the death of Princess Di. The unthinkable has happened, the fairy tale princess is no more. It's time to grow up Amelie.
Tentatively Amelie bridges her inner world of magical thinking to the adult world, much the way a voodoo shaman uses pins and dolls - only in her case she uses garden figurines and personal artifacts (old toys, slippers, torn photographs, masks.) She rarely leaves the boundaries of her small almost play house village. She often goes to the train station but she never gets on a train.
The world frightens Amelie and she hides from it effectively. No one sees her behind the scenes setting in motion the events that lead to the mean shopkeeper's lesson in compassion; her father's release from agoraphobia; the cashier's sensual return to her hot blooded self. When Amelie finally comes face to face with the young scrapbook maker she is standing behind a glass wall upon which she is writing the restaurant's "specials" (she looks like she is on the menu) - but what if she isn't quite to his taste? Only moments before she witnessed his disappointment when he realized that the conventionally attractive young woman approaching him in the restaurant was not his mystery date. Just as it wasn't safe for Amelie's mother to walk by a building perhaps it is not yet safe for Amelie to go out.
Where and When anyone emerges from childhood to adulthood (as we watch Amelie so quirkily do) may be about learning to overcome the fear that keeps us from traveling beyond our own borders - merely manipulating from a safe distance whatever idiosyncratic toys we have at our disposal within the confines of our childhood experience. That is the question Amelie tries to answer for herself. In the end she emerges, pale from a childhood spent mostly in the shadows into the bright sunlight shining on her face as she rides on the back of the scooter, arms around the man she has discovered the courage to finally meet.
Now she is going somewhere.
[Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (English: Amélie, literally The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain) is a 2001 French/German film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. Amélie won best film at the European Film Awards; it won four César Awards (including Best Film and Best Director), two BAFTA Awards (including Best Original Screenplay), and was nominated for five Academy Awards.]