How do I begin to describe my love for the film Amelie? This movie is so embedded within who I am as a person. I’m already crying thinking about how much this film means to me. So, let’s just start at the beginning.
I didn’t get to see Amelie in theatres when it was originally released here in the U.S. in 2001. I was in high school at the time and my friends didn’t want to go see art house foreign films for fun. They only went if I made them, like when I drug a bunch of 14 and 15 year olds to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for my 15th birthday party earlier that year. Which was one of my favorite birthday movies ever, but I could tell most of the other teenagers were not as enamored by “reading a movie” the way I was. So, sometime in the winter of 2002 my mom brought home the DVD of Amelie from Blockbuster for us to watch. This was not out of the ordinary. For years, every weekend my mom would get a small pile of movies from whatever the local video rental place was and we’d watch them over the weekend. In hindsight, she’d probably heard some buzz about Amelie somewhere online or from newspaper articles, but at the time I was sure she’d picked the movie for me since I was taking French in school and was fascinated by the language and the culture. So, late one weekend evening we put in the DVD and I fell in love.
I don’t completely remember everything about that first viewing of the film, but I remember the feeling I got. It gave me chills. I fell in love with the Parisian world that Amelie lived in. It had a magical quality. The colors were vibrant. The locations had a warmth to them. The characters were quirky but felt so incredibly real. I wanted to live in the movie. I wanted to either be Amelie or at least be her best friend. Being an almost 16 year old living in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio I knew that wasn’t possible but I could dream. Part of what made the character of Amelie who she was, was her ability to dream and use her imagination. I wasn’t an only child, but I’d had plenty of imaginary friends growing up. Amelie’s painful shyness that makes her almost miss out on being with her perfect guy, Nino, spoke to me so intensely. I can appear to be extroverted, but inside every social interaction came with a million anxieties. I would freeze inside my head and be terrified to talk to people or ask questions until I really knew someone. Some of these things have eased over the years thanks to getting older and the social lubricant of alcohol that I discovered in college but none of that was there to help me on the brink of 16. Amelie was, though. I wasn’t French or getting to France anytime soon, but I could watch this movie again, and live inside the world there and know that someone, even a fictional someone, had these same feelings and anxieties.
So, I watched Amelie again. And again. We rented it a lot that year. I remember watching the Oscars a week before my 16th birthday and hoping Amelie would take home one of those little gold men, but it just kept losing. The losses that I remember hurting the most that night were Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography. What was wrong with The Academy?! Couldn’t they see that Amelie was clearly the only choice for Best Foreign Language Film? It was the only one of the five nominated films I had seen, but it was beautiful. The story was so heartwarming. The characters were wonderful. And the cinematography was breathtaking. It’s the first movie I remember watching that really made me pay attention to the use of light in a film and the way the camera moved around the set and the characters. I mean, just watch that shot of Amelie skipping rocks. Gorgeous. I’d hand Bruno Delbonnel an Oscar for that alone. Now that I’m older though, the loss I’m most upset about is the one it never had a chance of winning; Best Original Score. Yann Tiersen’s score is so evocative. The moment I hear it I am transported into the world of the film. How was he not nominated that year? Now I’m angry about a 16 year old Oscar snub. The Oscars in 2002 went on and Amelie never won, but my love of the film just grew.
Later that year for Christmas, my mom gave me my own copy of the DVD. She probably figured it would save her from giving all her money to Blockbuster. It didn’t because my appetite to watch films was, and still is, insatiable, but now I had my very own copy of Amelie to watch whenever I wanted to without late fees. I know I talked about the film a lot. It being my favorite movie became one of my defining traits. (A few years later I ran into someone who had been in my little brother’s class that I only vaguely knew through doing school plays, and the thing she remembered about me was that Amelie was my favorite movie. I apparently discussed the movie at length backstage on several occasions.) I dressed as Amelie for Halloween my senior year of high school. Only my two best friends and my mom knew who I was. I even had a couple small skipping stones in my sweater pocket for more authenticity. My graduation present from my friend Sally was a CD of the score. I teared up when I opened the gift. She “got” me. I had been playing the movie on my computer in my room to fall asleep to. Now I could just pop in the soundtrack to drift off at night.
As I entered college, Amelie still meant the world to me. “What is your favorite movie?” is one of those icebreaker questions people use for orientation events and during sorority rushing. I knew when I mentioned Amelie and someone else knew the movie that they saw film on a different level, the way I did. We had common ground. I didn’t have to pretend to like Nicholas Sparks novels and the movie adaptations of them. Usually, I could nerd out about cinema with that person for a while. At the end of my freshman year I auditioned to be field commander of the marching band for the following fall. We got to pick our own music to conduct to for the audition. Everyone chose traditional marches or pop songs adapted into marching band style music. I used one of the tracks from the Amelie soundtrack. I stood out like a sore thumb. The director seemed shocked by my musical choice and I got weird looks from the others auditioning. From the response in the room I was clearly not going to be field commander. But for the couple mins I stood there conducting to the score of my favorite movie I didn’t care. It hurt a bit later but in that moment I was living a dream. It was like being in the movie for a minute. I was a dreamer like Amelie and I was taking my chance.
The following summer I was having trouble with my college boyfriend when I went on vacation to the beach with my family. I now think it was one of the first times I experienced depression but I’d never had it before so I didn’t know what was happening. I knew I was sad and had gotten so badly sunburned the first day there that I had to stay back alone at the rented beach house. I’d brought a few movies with me to watch on the portable DVD player my mom had brought but I ended up just watching Amelie over and over again. I watched it at least twice a night the whole week we were there. It was my security blanket that kept me feeling happy at night while I was anguishing over why my boyfriend wouldn’t call me. In Amelie’s world the jerks got their comeuppance. She could exact satisfying but largely benign revenge on the man who tells her she causes accidents by taking pictures, or the shopkeeper that bullies his sensitive employee. And she gets the guy in the end. She finds her soul mate. The guy with his own quirks that compliment her own. I wanted that someday. And this guy who wasn’t calling didn’t seem like he would be my Nino. I remember thinking that on one of my viewings that week and my heart broke. But then I could watch Amelie again and cry from happiness instead of sadness.
I mentioned earlier on my penchant for French culture and my love of the Paris in Amelie’s world. Amelie has become so much a part of who I am that I don’t know anymore if I loved France as much as I do now before I watched the movie or if the influence of the movie just imprinted on me. I would steal moments and scenes from the movie to write into French assignments in high school and college. Two of Amelie’s described “likes” in the film showed up a lot in those, and have now become “likes” of my own. Amelie likes to look back at the other people in the movie theatre to see their reactions to watching a film. I don’t necessarily turn away from a movie screen while watching in a theatre because I like seeing all the details, like Amelie, and don’t want to miss a moment. But, I now have a podcast where the premise is that one of my guests or I have never seen the film before. I prefer when it’s the guest because I love seeing other people experience great films for the first time. There’s so much joy in seeing cinema touch someone emotionally through laughter, excitement, awe, crying; however they react. Amelie also likes cracking the top of her crème brulee with her spoon. A dessert I love and will order whenever it is on the menu. And my poor husband has now had to put up with me always cracking it when we get one to share because I love being able to live out that Amelie moment, even when it’s just a few seconds.
There’s also my love of French Impressionist paintings. Again, did this predate Amelie? I don’t know anymore. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party features prominently throughout the film. I had a large poster of it that hung above my bed all through college and through my first apartment with my now husband. I also have a 1000 piece puzzle of it that I spent weeks on but never quite cracked before we needed the space for other things. (Someday I will complete you!) And Renoir is now one of my favorite Impressionists.
As I’m typing this I am in a room that has quite a bit of décor either in the shape of or with the visage of the Eiffel Tower on it. I dreamt for years of visiting the places in Paris that feature throughout Amelie. I wanted to get coffee at the Café de 2 Moulins, go to Sacre Coeur and look through one of the viewers, and walk through the streets of Montmartre. I finally made it to Paris in 2011 but had much less time there than I originally thought I would. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Montmartre. Someday I’ll go back and live out my full Amelie dreams, but I did make it to one location from the film. Notre Dame. It’s where Amelie’s mother is killed by a suicidal tourist. A bit macabre but also a funny part of the film. But for me, it is where I got to call my mom and grandma and tell them I just got engaged. Because I did eventually find my quirky Nino. His name is Jeremy and he understood how much France and Paris and this movie mean to me so he proposed just behind the Eiffel Tower.
So, I’m back to the beginning when I said this movie is embedded in me. It’s changed my life more than I realized when I started writing this. I felt so honored when Justine asked me to write something about Amelie. She knew it was my favorite movie but I don’t know if she knew how much it has affected my life. I could probably write at least 3 more essays about this movie from different angles but I find film to be incredibly personal so this is my personal journey with Amelie. I don’t watch it quite as much as I used to but whenever I do I still get the magical feeling I had the first time I saw it. It still gives me chills.
Amanda is the host of Amanda's Picture Show a Go Go and co-host of Culture Pop a Go Go. You should visit her website at amandaagogo.com and follow her on social media at @MandaAiley @AmandasPicShow and @CulturePopAGoGo
Want to hear our take on Amelie? Make sure you listen to our episode!