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The light and the dark in Paris
I think it s been such a big success because it makes you happy. It s positive. It makes you dream and we need that.
Jean- Pierre Jeunet expressly renounced the global. He made a pact with himself to contribute to the national heritage returning with affection to the local, to "the Paris of my youth, a fairy-tale Paris."'
It is hard to argue that this film isn t an expression of all that can bring joy to our worlds. Jeunet is luxurious in the details he provides for his audience, reminding them of the wonderful little things that we might, perhaps, have forgotton. What I mean by this is
A sack of grain
It s crème brûlée
It s pretty waterfalls and skimming stone
Notice the mild obsession with the close up. You could call it a motif of Jeunet s in this film. He s definitely not afraid to get in close and show us the luxurious detail of the little things. The close up is all about intimacy and Jeunet is giving us a great sense of the intimate relationship Amelie (and other characters) have with these little things. And the close up gives us the chance to get the feel for these objects, to focus on their sensory qualities rather than concerning ourselves with their context, the social circumstances, or how other people react of judge.
It s an escape from this
Not so much social awkwardness, but social expectation, and social disappointment
An absolute celebration of the local
That is perhaps where a lot of the quirk in the film comes from. The fact that Jeunet is willing to dwell, to patiently explore the unusual and unexpected details that are so often passed over in a film. That s why not a heck of a lot happens in this film, often Jeunet is too busy helping us see the world in a new way to get weighed down by minor things like story.
And Jeunet is good at this
He is very, very good at creating a world for his audience to revel in. He is a fairy-tale creator remember? His Paris is his Paris, not The Paris. It is a sepia washed, colour controlled, pristine city of magic and romance certainly a lie Who s been to Paris? Does Jeunet s Paris in any way match up to the reality of the city? But in his defence, he does a damn job of creating mood, atmosphere, sensation again, it s all in the detail
It s sepia
It s magic rain
It s magic and sepia
It s pristine mise-en-scene and more sepia
It s a radiance
It is, of course, a lie
But we re not interested in the truth
And this is perhaps Jeunet s master stroke. He has created a world that is definitely a fantasy it is definitely a fairy tale world. And as a consequence he s not bound by the rules and expectations of regular reality. This means that his blatant romanticising doesn t come across as overly sentimental, false or flaky. It s sweet, it s joyful, it s uplifting instead.
And it is our world
Subways, cafes, streets, panoramas
Which is I think what is so clever about Jeunet s design for this film. It is of our world. It is recognisable. It is not so far away from the world we live in that we consider it as pure fantasy. It does a fantastic job of living in that marginal space between fiction and reality. And so that means we feel okay about relating what we see Amelie doing to our own world, without feeling silly or overly optimistic. Jeunet s success is that he shows us a way of seeing our world in a new way. He teaches us how to make our world a space of fairy-tale wonder. And it is all in the detail it is a philosophy of the close-up. Of joy without context, of utter aesthetic pleasure in your own private world.
Remember this dude?
The Jetztzeit A Philosophy to live by?
Walter Benjamin (German philosopher and extremely important figure in the history of Western thought) used the term jetztzeit ('now-time') when referring to a moment without history, a moment outside of time, an everlasting now. The reason this kind of thinking is so valuable is because it makes for something akin to traditional religious transcendence. Instead of having to establish overall meaning in existence, one can live moment to moment, seeking out and revelling in these moments outside of time , of absolute personal indulgence that establish for the individual a momentary freedom from the world.
Is this enough?
Possibly. It is by all means fine to see Amelie as an investigation and expression of the solutions to the crisis of meaning found in the modern world. Meaning need not be over-arching, over-bearing or even grand meaning can be found in the miniscule, the individual and the local. But there is more to the film than this. And this is an important side note. Texts cannot be restricted in their meanings, they will ALWAYS have multiple meaning. They are not maths equations, there is no secret to unlock, no x. The joy of a film such as this is that it is open to interpretation and is rich in the interpretations one might give it. I m just trying to guide you through a couple but there are more, no doubt.
Amelie is a fairy tale. That is definite joy and happiness in the film and this can be read in the techniques Jeunet includes. But there is more to is than this. There is ALWAYS more than one reading to a text. Meaning is fluid and so there will always be more. This is how texts work, they are rich and open to interpretation. And so we must remember that
Amelie is lonely
Amelie is isolated
Amelie is an outsider
Amelie is an insider
Jeunet tells us so
His use of colour and composition is so clear that we it is difficult to deny that Amelie suffers, that she is unhappy, that she doesn t fit in. She stands out amongst the greens of the world. She blends in to the reds of her home. This is where she fits, this is where she feels comfortable. But this is also deeply problematic for Amelie and the happiness she might be meant to represent
How can Amelie be happy and find joy in the little things when she is so deeply isolated from the world and introverted? Does this mean that her retreats into the little things are in fact escapes from a world she doesn t belong to and that she doesn t feel connected to? Does this mean that film is about our desperate attempts to escape from the world rather than a celebration of finding meaning in the little things?
And so we seek control
Controlling how we see
Controlling how we are seen
And this is relevant
This desire and obsession with controlling how we are seen in the world is not very far away from the reality of the modern situation. Image is perhaps the biggest defining factor for an individual in the modern world we are obsessed with image. We all work to shape and develop a persona that we want the world to see. This is hardly different from what Amelie is doing the only thing is, is that she takes her manipulation of her image to an extreme through costume.
Just to make a space for ourselves
This makes sense. In a world that is increasingly overwhelming, complex and fragmented, it is not surprising that we would want to have some control over the world we live in. Amelie wants to feel less insignificant and so by devising stratagems to affect the way people act and behave, she can remind herself that she does indeed have some control over the world.
But again, problematic
In the face of such dislocation and uncertainty about one s place in the world, it is all too easy to draw further and further back into oneself. This is certainly what Amelie does. And it s fair, she can locate meaning in things that are personal to her and she can ignore the world at large. But what happens when you want to re-engage with the world. Well, according to Jeunet, this is the way the world is going and we need objects to help us. Remember
Barriers, object, mediation
Jeunet has done a fairly impressive job of developing motifs throughout the film. He has managed to find physical expression for the barriers that we put up in our lives to avoid direct contact and interaction with the world. His barriers are pumped full of meaning to become symbols for the inability for particular characters to get beyond their own isolation and introversion. And he crowds his film with objects. Things that characters use to help them engage with the world around them. While Jeunet s film is fairly low tech, we re not particularly far away from our world of text, facebook chat and email.
And so we come to a question or three
What do you think Jeunet is emphasising here? What does that fact that he has a happy ending mean? Does the fact that the film is a fairy tale suggest that any hope for joy in the immediate and the local is simply that; a fairy tale, a fantasy?
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