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April 25, 2007

DVD Journal: "Amelie"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --


I finally caught up with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 "Amelie." It's a French movie for people who prefer movie trailers to actual movies: an ad for itself, basically -- an overblown, synthetic collection of generic Froggyfilm high points, generic Froggyfilm Big Moments, and generic Froggyfilm swoopiness. In America -- where movies and their ad campaigns have been merging for years now -- we're semi-used to this. What's odd about watching "Amelie" is seeing this approach applied to the themes and tropes of traditional French entertainment -- quirky heroines, cigarettes, Montmartre, love, charm, food, accordion music.

All that duly grumped-about, I also found "Amelie" surprisingly enjoyable. It's, y'know, a very effective and cheery 122-minute-long trailer-for-itself. Its overbright, pushed-up-against-the-screen approach may derive from rock videos and TV ads -- but (I found myself musing) perhaps that's the contemporary form of the musical comedy. And the film's tone of bittersweet, romantic rue isn't all that different than the tone of early Rene Clair. "Amelie" in fact is like an MTV remix of a Rene Clair movie.

The film is also, as a production, a pretty stupendous piece of work. Good lord, the intricacy and scale of it! Entire Parisian blocks, entire train stations, and hordes of chic and picturesque extras were commandeered into service, and drilled into snapping-to with Rockettes-like precision. On the disc's commentary the full-of-himself, worldly, and amused Jeunet confides that he's a "control freak." I'll say he is.

Which brings me to another thing. Like many of these new concept-over-content extravaganzas ("Run, Lola, Run," the Charlie Kaufman movies, "Moulin Rouge"), "Amelie" left me feeling buzzed but exhausted. There's something in me that can't help responding to what I imagine the circumstances of a film's production were like. In the case of "Amelie": All that energy ... All that stressful effort ... All that cleverness ... (I'm not a big fan of cleverness, myself.) How can the people involved in these movies get out of bed in the morning, facing the mountains of tricksily demanding work that they have assigned themselves? Every day must be the busiest, most head-achey day of their lives.

I'd love to see easygoingness make a return as a value that movies peddle, and (even better) that audiences demand.



posted by Michael at April 25, 2007


I suppose I should confess that, when I saw Amelie, I mostly enjoyed trying to spot Parisian neighborhoods I'm familiar with. Though the photo "McGuffin" was kinda cute (no, I won't lob in a spoiler here).

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 25, 2007 6:42 PM

Amelie made you exhausted?... k... how did you survive 300 exactly?

Posted by: adrian on April 26, 2007 5:44 AM

Donald - The movie's a nice way to re-experience Paris, isn't it?

Adrian -- I'm still in recovery from "300"! Maybe a restful stay at a spa should be included in the cost of today's movie tix ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 26, 2007 11:29 AM

Ameile was overly precious, although three are a few nice visual touches, but Audrey Tatou is awfully cute.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 26, 2007 11:54 AM

You know, sometimes you want to watch a movie that you know you will like because you are sure it hits all the right, if cliched, spots. Movies like Amelie are kind of like this; they are like middle-brow books that are comfortable and light, but not so light that they are stupid. You get to see scenes of Paris, you get to see that yummy actor (what's his name), you get to see Audrey Tatou look pleasing and gamine and full-lipped. The movie is lit with gold and the story hardly matters because whatever it is about, it will be vaguely sentimental and slightly silly and recognizably, if overly movie-ish, human. In short, it is profoundly comforting to enjoy a nice, easygoing, no surprises movie, and if it's just the tiniest bit quirky, that only adds to the charm.

Posted by: MD on April 26, 2007 1:58 PM

For a guy who extols the wondrous virtues of pop music, why such disappointment with a film that draws from the same well?

I greatly enjoyed Ameliť, and most of the other films you mentioned. One consideration is that these are among the ... well, I was going to write films, but part of the issue is how often we see them projected on a big screen in a theater, rather than on a television monitor via DVD at home. These multi-media entertainments aim at a target audience younger than this geezer, but I've grown fond of the style after watching them with The Daughter Unit. Now, SHE is much more the desired demographic and like many young'uns the way she watches DVDs repeatedly, listens to soundtrack compilations, grew up with MTV, etc., has led to the development of this style as one of the new variations on old themes.

Posted by: Chris White on April 26, 2007 5:45 PM

I found the first (grumpy) paragraph of this post to be spot-on. I can't stand ads, movie trailers, and most music videos, and I therefore strongly disliked Amelie. It was really boring -- I kept waiting for the plot to start.

Posted by: MQ on April 26, 2007 6:27 PM

I'd love to see easygoingness make a return as a value that movies peddle, and (even better) that audiences demand.

At last, you unmask yourself! Secretly, you've wanted to watch Bing Crosby movies your entire life! Admit it, wretch!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 26, 2007 7:55 PM

Patriarch -- "Precious" is certainly an apt word!

MD -- It does hit all the expected marks, doesn't it?

Chris -- I'd imagine that watching these films in the company of someone younger would be very enlightening! Like you I sometimes hesitate to use the word "films" when it comes to these entertainments. They're ... mediathings. But the kids certainly embrace them as their own.

MQ -- "Plot"? "Plot"? Well, haven't you become a stuffy old tradtionalist.

FvB -- You've got my number. Actually I'd like to *be* Bing Crosby. When I grow up, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 26, 2007 8:08 PM

Yann Tiersen's soundtrack is really quite nice...

Posted by: Hiawatha on April 26, 2007 11:00 PM

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