Moving Pictures
Jun 07, 2024, 06:29AM

Amélie from Paris to Guadalajara

Another movie poster memory finally realized with Amélie at the Senator Theatre.

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March 2002—nine-years-old with my family driving on a highway somewhere near Guadalajara. There’s a billboard in the sky surrounded by nothing, not even shantytowns or industrial farms full of belching silver. There’s nothing but the metal holding this billboard up so high on a clear day you could see forever, and I notice it because I’ve seen it before. It’s been impossible to miss the last year in Manhattan: Audrey Tatou in a red sweater smiling up at the camera against an emerald green background. Super-saturated colors: her face, makeup, and haircut out of a silent movie, her impish grin that of comic strip heroes and imaginary friends. Tatou plays Amélie Poulain in Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, known in North America simply as Amélie.

I always remembered that billboard in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. But I’d never seen the movie itself until last Wednesday, when the Senator played it to a nearly sold-out crowd. I was shocked—I knew the movie did well ($174 million against a $10 million budget, a freak French hit around the world), but was it really this remembered?

Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed the film and conceived the story with screenwriter Guillaume Laurant; 10 years earlier Jeunet made his directorial debut alongside Marc Caro with Delicatessen, which the Senator also played back in March albeit to a much smaller crowd. That movie wasn’t a hit, but I haven’t heard anyone bring up Amélie in the 22 years since I saw that billboard. My former co-worker Amber was a big fan of Delicatessen, but we never talked about Amélie once.

I went on Wednesday because of the billboard, but couldn’t believe how swept up I got. Swept up. Swallowed whole. Completely immersed. Every cliché about moviegoing and great movies. I was so moved by Amélie because its craft was so high, every shot beautifully-designed and in exactly the right place, its incident and characters and rail thin “plot” all in service of fulfilling the most basic film fantasy: that the world is beautiful and true love will win in the end.

Is this movie responsible for Paris disappointment syndrome? Not quite—the Japanese were already publishing books on it in 1991—but fuck me, this movie really does make Paris look like a living postcard, a gingerbread metropolis of whimsy and madeleines and melancholy. The sky’s always golden and the people of Paris live in harmony, despite their differences; the film concentrates on the denizens of the cafe where Amélie works, and all of their miniature foibles. Amélie flies so close to “quirky” but never even clips it, remaining enchanting for all of its two hours.

It’s a classic, basic story told well and executed at the highest level of cinema craft at the turn of the millennium. Everyone in that theater was hanging on it, applauding and laughing throughout at the delightful little life of Amélie Poulain, the star of a movie I waited 22 years to see, a mental note to catch up eventually, from Paris to Guadalajara to Manhattan to Baltimore.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter and Instagram: @nickyotissmith


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