Augh! I’ve been tricked into watching a romantic comedy!!
When I decided I was going to start watching foreign films, I naturally asked my more knowledgeable friends (some of whom actually live in other countries) for suggestions. One of the most common suggestions was Amelie, a French film that I had always heard of but never watched, partly because the cover makes it look like it’s about a particularly disturbed serial killer.
Come on, take a look at those crazy eyes and tell me I’m wrong.
But as it turns out, Amelie is not a slasher film. (By the way, excuse my lack of proper accents–I have a bad keyboard.) It belongs to the one genre I despise more than slashers: romantic comedy. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, it being French and all. It tells the story of an imaginative girl named…you guessed it…who grows up in Paris with her socially awkward dad and her overly nervous mum, until a suicidal tourist falls on the mum’s head, killing her in the most hilariously cruel way possible. Fast forward a few years, and Amelie has turned into a lovely young woman who’s still imaginative, but also painfully introverted. Her only relationships are with her dad, who’s become a total recluse, and her quirky co-workers at the cafe where she waitresses. But one day she finds an old box of toys hidden in her apartment and decides to reunite it with its former owner. Thus begins her new career of trying to make life better for everyone around her–while talking to them as little as possible. When she meets a young man whose quirks seem compatible with hers, she tries to win him over in a similar fashion: through the magic of stalking.
To be perfectly honest, as romantic comedies go, this is definitely one of the cleverest and most artfully made ones I’ve seen. It avoids many of the usual cliches, and it really is funny at times. While Amelie’s brand of shyness may be a bit extreme–to the point where it seems she must have a mental disorder of some kind–every introvert can probably relate just a little bit to her fear of speaking to strangers, especially ones she fancies. Also, she’s homeschooled! I think this might be the first movie I’ve seen where the protagonist went to the same school I did. Yay home school!
Amelie‘s cinematography is also lovely. Besides some random, cartoony special effects thrown in to emphasize the magical realism side of the movie, the Parisian scenery is constantly shown off in the most gorgeous ways possible. The soundtrack is great too, in a quiet way. And the movie has one of the least annoying narrators I’ve ever seen. I love the way he introduces each character, not with a bunch of backstory, but just a few of their likes and dislikes. His delivery also adds a lot of humour to the story.
The only problem I have with this movie’s “trappings”–effects, cinematography, etc.–is that it all seems a bit…stereotypical. The music makes great use of that accordion-sounding instrument that is synonymous with France in every American movie. People spend a lot of time drinking wine and talking about sex and art in picturesque cafes. Stripes figure prominently in several characters’ wardrobes. Paris is portrayed as a sparkly clean city full of beautiful stone buildings, bronze statues, and white people. Women (and the men around them) seem very comfortable with letting it all hang out, so to speak. It’s all so similar to the depiction of France I’ve seen in every TV show, movie, cartoon and poster here in the States that I can’t help feeling a bit suspicious. Then again, this movie was made by actual French people, and I’ve never even been to France, so what do I know? Maybe all the stereotypes are true. Also, this is the most famous French movie in America, and it’s been around for a while, so it’s possible some of the stereotypes I grew up with started with Amelie.
A bigger problem I have with this movie is that, even though it’s more artfully made than most romantic comedies, at bottom it’s about the same old thing: two pretty, quirky people decide to hook up because they’re both pretty and quirky. Even if Amelie’s portrayed as a pathologically shy person who gets braver by the end (sort of), she still falls back on the stalking method to woo her love interest, instead of actually trying to get to know him, and that is a method I can never condone. I mean…their relationship is primarily based on photo booth pictures! Honestly, even after seeing the movie, I still think Amelie would make a pretty good serial killer. She’s got the complicated schemes down, including disguises and ways of covering her tracks, and she does have a bit of a mean streak, as shown by the cruel pranks she plays on the neighbors she sees as “bad.” She’s even got the right kind of backstory–parental issues, a socially awkward personality, and at least one traumatic childhood experience. But in this movie she’s the heroine, because she only hurts people who are shown as total jerks, her stalking victim happens to think she’s hot, and…well, so does the audience. Nice.
In the end, this movie’s message seems to be: “Life is short. Take action to pursue your dreams, even if it’s scary, instead of just letting things happen to you.” Which is not a bad message, all things considered. Of course, it still doesn’t quite make up for the fact that our two romantic leads are never shown speaking to each other.
I can definitely understand why so many of my friends like this movie. It’s pretty, it’s cute, and it’s funny. The acting is good, the cinematography is great, and the writing is witty. It’s got a happy, feel-good plot. But it simply isn’t my cup of tea. I’m not a huge fan of romance in general, as I’ve explained before, and I tend to like movies with a little more conflict. I’m also not a huge fan of nudity, and although I wasn’t surprised to see a few casually topless women in a French film, I still could have done without them.
Things I had to look up:
Really just the names of cocktails. Because Amelie works in a cafe that serves alcohol, people mention various drink orders a lot, which occasionally confused me. I didn’t know what a kir was, or a mauresque, for example. But I think that says more about my ignorance of wine and fancy wine drinks than my ignorance of France. I also had to look up the word “scurf.” But again, that’s an English word that I probably should have known already. Overall, this movie is very easy to follow for an American audience, which probably explains its success over here.
This is one movie that I don’t personally love, but I wouldn’t think any less of another person for loving it. It succeeds in everything it tries to do–I just don’t really love any of those things. Still, I found it mildly entertaining, and it even made me laugh out loud a couple times, which is more than I can say for most romantic movies.
By the way, apparently there’s a stage musical version of Amelie out now, starring Phillippa Soo. Now THAT I might pay money to see.