By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 25, 2014
I wanted to follow up on my essay about Amélie with two quick notes about the film.
One is that I experienced an unexpected jolt of recognition at the subplot involving the protagonist’s father. Amélie — minor spoiler ahead! — removes the garden gnome with which M. Poulain seems to be obsessed and gives it to a customer at her café who is a flight attendant.
Only we don’t actually see what Amélie does with it, because the movie diverts our attention. When Amélie walks into the central Paris train station with the gnome, she encounters the movie’s love interest for the second time. Nino Quincompoix chases a man out of the train station, and Amélie — carrying her father’s gnome — runs after him.
It wasn’t initially clear to me who Quincompoix was chasing or why. Later, it became apparent that he was running after a character known as the man with red shoes. (I won’t reveal who the man with red shoes is or why Quincompoix takes an interest in him.) The relevant event here is that, as part of his pursuit, the love interest hops on his motorbike, takes off after red-shoes-man’s car, and suddenly swerves to avoid an oncoming vehicle. That change in direction sends a photo album flying out of the bike’s side saddle and on to the ground, where Amélie — ornament still in her arms — comes upon it and picks it up. The very next scene is all about Nino’s photo album.
Here’s where the jolt of recognition comes in. Several minutes later, Amélie visits her father, who is mystified by envelopes that he’s been receiving in the mail. These envelopes contain no written messages — just photographs of the gnome standing in front of various international locales.
Looking at these pictures, I immediately flashed on the roaming gnome marketing campaign for an online travel company. Was this movie where that campaign got its intellectual start?
Well… Apparently not. According to Wikipedia, gnomes have been roaming in this fashion since the mid-1980s. But it was weird to connect an independently made French movie so suddenly and viscerally with an American Internet company’s marketing campaign.
The other thing I wanted to mention about Amélie is the one grievously wrong note that the movie struck. It involves the movie’s other romance — the one that the protagonist conspires to arrange between Georgette (Isabelle Nanty), her café’s resident tobacconist, and patron Joseph (Dominique Pinon).
Pinon’s character is problematic, to say the least. A former lover of another café employee, waitress Gina (Clotilde Mollet), Joseph remains obsessed with his ex-girlfriend. He sits in the restaurant at all hours, pulling out a tape recorder and making notes on Gina’s activities. At one point, he replays one of Gina’s laughs to the staff and patrons literally the instant after she’s finished laughing.
Gina and her co-workers make it clear that Joseph’s attention is unwelcome, but the movie tries to play off the fixation as comical. That’s not at all how such a situation would work in real life.
Most of Amélie’s machinations seem to work out for the best. The obnoxious grocer gets his comeuppance; the berated grocer’s assistant blossoms; Amélie herself entrances the handsome weirdo; M. Poulain — again, spoiler! — resolves to indulge his repressed yen for travel.
The one thing that misfires is the setup of Georgette and Joseph, for eventually her nerves begin to fray under the man’s relentless scrutiny. This is done for plot reasons; in what’s supposed to be a comic misunderstanding, Joseph makes a cutting remark that leads Amélie to believe Quincompoix might be pursuing the flirtatious Gina. This is basically the last we hear or see of the café or its denizens.
Amélie and Nino get a happy ending, as does M. Poulain. One doubts that things will end so neatly for Joseph and the woman after whom he lusts. Stalking isn’t funny, and it’s to director/screenwriter Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s and co-screenwriter Guillaume Laurant’s discredit that they attempt to treat it as such.
This is a key reason why Amélie functions as entertainment but not as art — because it doesn’t grapple honestly with its characters and their situations.