I absolutely adore 'Amélie' film; it's one of those special films for me that every time I watch it, my adoration for it seems to grow. I could celebrate 20 years since its release by talking about how much I love it, or I could talk about the whimsical heartbeat that runs through the film that gives 'Amélie' its breath of life. I could talk about how it (probably too late in life) was my introduction into French cinema and the quirky, romantic genre type it resides in. I could even talk about the interesting career trajectory of four-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel ('Inside Llewyn Davis', 'Darkest Hour'). While I'm at it, I could - and would - love to explore how this whole film is bathed in a red, green and yellow colour palette that just bursts out of the screen, nesting onto my eyes and etching vivid and everlasting pictures in my mind.
But as I lovingly re-watched 'Amélie' in the lead up to its anniversary, there was one idea in particular that just hasn't escaped my mind, and it's what I've decided to focus on here for my retrospective.
'Amélie' - or more officially, 'The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain', the 2001 French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet ('A Very Long Engagement') - would make a perfect double feature companion piece with 2020's soon-to-be Best Animated Feature, Pete Docter's ('Inside Out') 'Soul'.
I don't just mean a double feature that you might be lucky enough to catch at an old indie cinema, or something you should watch at home one after the other. No - what I mean is that these two films, as a pairing, have the capacity to introduce a positivity and optimism into a world where there is little found. The lessons that we can take from both of these films works so well together, and if we just heed their teachings, we could find ourselves in a much happier place.
Our two protagonists, Amélie (Audrey Tautou, 'The Da Vinci Code') and Joe (Jamie Foxx, 'Ray'), are not cut from the same cloth, nor would I argue that their goals align in any shape or form. But, if we look at Joe by 'Soul's' conclusion, and how he starts to find happiness in the little moments of life, and apply that with Amélie - a joy maker who wants to enrich all the lives around her - suddenly the picture becomes a little clearer. They both approach life in completely different ways, but ultimately, they both realise that approaching a goal in life doesn't mean we should bypass all the little things along the way. As the big musical number from the Amélie stage adaption states, "times are hard for dreamers"- but it's the joys of life that let us dream.
'Amélie' is made from the central character's perspective, so just as she cultivates a taste for small pleasures, so to does the audience. Dipping her hands into sacks of grain, skipping stones and, unforgettably, breaking the top of creme brûlée. But all these quirks that bring her joy come at the cost of living a life of solitude. That will, of course, change as she discovers her newfound joy, chasing the man of her dreams. She becomes borderline obsessed, and perhaps if she were in 'Soul', we'd see her fall into "the zone", the place where the obsession becomes too much to bear, and you end up missing all of life's other satisfying moments. But she is careful not to fall into that trap, because she shares her joys with all those around her. It's impossible for her to miss life's little moments, because her obsession is not attached to a goal or a purpose, but rather it's attached to her heart.
Almost the exact opposite could be said of Joe, who obsesses over becoming a jazz pianist, so much so that he tries to escape the clutches of death in order to go back to earth and fulfil his dreams. "If I could just accomplish this one thing, I would be happy." Oh Joe, poor obsessed and dead Joe, has Amélie taught you nothing? In addition, has Amélie taught us anything?
Jeunet makes a very direct point of showing us exactly what brings Amélie joy, and how much pleasure she derives from gifting that joy to her friends, strangers, and even the audience. You need to find what makes you happy, and that's not necessarily going to be where you think it lies. Joe was so confident his "spark" was jazz, but by confusing his goal with his purpose, he's missed the joys along the way. It's not until 22 (Tina Fey, 'Mean Girls', TV's '30 Rock') runs around New York like a kid at a candy store, that Joe even begins to appreciate all that life has to offer. For example, when Joe - or more accurately Joe being possessed by 22 - goes to get a haircut, for the first time they have a legitimate chat about life, and it results in not only bringing glee to Joe, but that happiness is spread likewise to the barber Dez. When you're able to see and live outside of your own little bubble, you'll be amazed at how contagious a smile can be.
These two films really come together and try to help us viewers learn to live our best lives.
Amélie lives her life by joy, and whilst that may become her security, it ends up unlocking the key to her love. The whimsy and enchantment of 'Amélie' become the security of everyone, most notably us as an audience. We crave to see her enjoying those little life pleasures, and that's what eventually builds into the hope that she finds her soulmate. Conversely, at the beginning and through most of 'Soul', the audience is led to believe that Joe's main goal of playing the show with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) is our main hope, and what we want to see at the conclusion. Alas, that proves to be misleading. Had Joe ever sat down to watch 'Amélie', assuming that in this cinematic universe it exists - as it should in any cinematic universe, then maybe Joe would have tried living his best life much earlier on in the piece.
And that's just it. These two films really come together and try to help us viewers learn to live our best lives. Whether that be eating raspberries off our fingers one by one, cleaning out our toolbox and putting everything back inside, or seeing a star pupil really shine. It doesn't matter what the life "spark" may be, what matters is that we try to find them in everything. Amélie's neighbour Mr Dufayel (Serge Merlin) stays indoors because his bones are so brittle it's dangerous for him to venture outside, but he warns Amélie that "if she lets this chance go, her bones too will become brittle." It's all well and good and stop and smell the roses, but be sure to keep searching for the spark - and when you find it, don't let it go.
I am forever enchanted with 'Amélie', both the film and the character. The fantastical atmosphere holds a special place in viewers hearts all over the world, with its distinctive tones being eternally memorable. With 'Soul' now trying to teach similar and valuable lessons, we have no excuse not to open our eyes and appreciate life's little gems. So, the next time you crack open a creme brûlée, look up at a blue sky or feel the wind of a passing train - smile. And remember, if not for these films that yearn to open our eyes and spread the joys of life, we may miss them altogether.