Amelie is a film I’ve loved from the first time I saw it. Loved the color scheme, loved the storytelling, loved the cast, loved the message it had. It’s one of those rare films that makes you feel good about the fact that you’re alive and part of the human race, and let’s be honest: we need those reminders now more than ever in our messed-up world. It restores your faith in humanity by doing nice things for others. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss out on another theme throughout the film: in order to have enduring relationships, one must clutivate a sense of simple pleasure that is unique to the individual.
|The green in this film has always gotten me as well.
One of my favorite parts of the storytelling in this film is slipped in as a charming aside: the descriptions of likes and dislikes of the characters, which offers insight into the things that make life enjoyable for each person. More often than not, these are sensory pleasures, as opposed to a mental stimulation achieved through medium of thought (book, film, music). We first get this theme in the introduction, as the child Amelie has age-appropriate fun: letting glue dry on her hands, painting a face on her chin and talking, making paper cut outs, tipping over dominoes. As the character grows into the adult Audrey Tautou form, we get her adult pleasures: cracking creme brulee, skipping stones, dipping her fingers into sacks of grain. It’s not just her that we’re allowed this insight: her father likes peeling large strips of wall paper; her mother likes polishing the floors; Bretodeau (Maurice Benichou) loves carving and picking the hot meat off of a chicken; Gina (Clotilde Mollet) likes the sound of bones cracking; Joseph (Dominique Pinon) likes popping bubble wrap; Lucien achieves joy through handling produce carefully; hell, we even have revealed to us that a cat likes listening to children’s stories. Each of these pleasures is highly sensory in nature, whether it’s a sound, a touch, a scent, or a sight. These treasured sensations help craft a sense of joy in each character, which helps flesh the character out into a three-dimensional person with likes, aspirations and desires. Moreover, these sensations are pivotal to achieving a sense of joy, marking this everyday experience as something that needs to be fostered and cherished.
|Great, now I want raspberries.
When these characters rely on machinations rather than the sense of self developed based upon individual likes and dislikes, we get relationships that fail. Amelie has difficulty relating to parents who refuse to touch her, and as a result, her relationship with them is arm’s length and unfulfilling. Amelie later engineers a relationship for Joseph and Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) with ultimately disastrous results, as Joseph cannot help but turn obsessive attention toward his partner. Likewise, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) and Amelie’s relationship is placed into a state of jeopardy because they play games: the masked assailant, the secret messages, the mystery of the man in the photos. The running theme in each of these is that happiness backfires because these relationships are based on emotional manipulation rather than the true self. The misunderstandings, honesty, and authenticity issues that arise from these situations stem more so from a lack of connection between the people engaged in the relationship and the true self, which has likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams. Without the ability to engage the senses in acts of interpersonal relationships, the relationship is doomed to fail.
The two best illustrators of successful relationships that integrate the senses are, ironically, Amelie and Bretodeau. When Amelie is finally confronted with the reality of Nino in her apartment, she does not wish to speak with him; she chooses instead to kiss him on the face, neck and brow, all intimate areas (mouth, heart, and mind, symbolically). It is in the subsequent moments that we get to see a new side of her: for someone that failed previously at relationships – remember, we got to watch her try not to laugh during sex earlier in the film – she demonstrated content attachment as Nino curled up on her chest and she ran her fingers through his hair. While nowhere near as sexually intimate, Bretodeau shares his tradition of picking apart a chicken carcass with his grandson, passing on a valued habit to someone whom he loved enough to set aside parent-child squabbles. His use of sensory activity bonds him to his grandson, which, as an audience, we somehow know is going to lead to a long, happy relationship between these two characters. By stripping away the verbiage and allowing the other senses a chance to express happiness and bonding without language, the characters establish a true sense of happiness.
|Really pay attention to the sensation of being kissed.
At the end of the film, we know that everything is in its rightful place as Amelie and Nino ride through the streets on his bike. She nuzzles into the back of his neck as she holds onto him, both smiling and content. It is this state of simple pleasure, of simple being, that the two achieve their great happiness. They get the personality quirks, but both know that the small pleasures in life – the feeling of grain, the assembly of a picture, the unspoken joy in the world around you – craft the understandings that bring about greater happiness. If you’re like me, that’s just dandy.