If you’ve been following our posts recently, you know we’ve been talking about our ‘favorite things’. In each post we take a poll and one thing is very clear – everyone loves Amélie including critics and the Academy – it was nominated for five Oscars including, Best Foreign Film. What is it about this whimsical film that so many people adore? Today’s guest blogger, Marnie Hanel, writes about her own love affair with Amélie that beautifully captures the spirit of this charming, Parisian story.
In 2001, when Amélie premiered, every girl I knew fancied herself to be an effortlessly chic French introvert with an impish smile and an impeccable haircut. But I — 20 years old, messy hair, English major—knew that they were all wrong. Amélie was me. The character’s exceedingly specific delights—cracking the glassy caramelized sugar atop a crème brulee, sinking her hand into a barrel of lentils, capping her fingertips with raspberries and eating them one-by-one—were my own. “Amelie retreats into the world of her imagination,” the subtitles read. And I thought, go on. “She cultivates a taste for small pleasures,” they continued. And I said, yup.
I first saw Amélie at an arthouse theater near my college campus. I went there frequently, often alone, because at that point in my life I didn’t know anyone who wanted to see as many movies as I did, and I’d recently realized that if you go to the movies by yourself, you get to see whatever you want. Still, I was the only person I knew who did this. (Let’s just say, I wasn’t at N.Y.U.) And so it was something of an awakening to be sitting in a movie theater all alone, across from Amélie, who was sitting in a movie theater all alone, too. There, in the low light, she faced the camera and confessed in a near-whisper, “I like looking back at people’s faces in the dark.” And I, having just peeked behind my shoulder to do that very thing, nodded. Before then, I thought I was the only one.
As Amélie’s Parisian adventure continued, through a super-saturated world of red and green, I was in step with her every plot point. Why yes, you should send your father’s garden gnome to Russia, Amélie. Absolutely cut and paste a widow’s letters to repair her memory of her late, wayward husband. Definitely seek revenge on the despicable grocer through subterfuge with slippers. You must find the owner of the long-forgotten childhood mementos! Befriend that hermit! Mask the hypochondriac’s noisy bathroom tryst with the espresso machine! But, then again, when your crush finally confronts you, forget all the aforementioned bravery and deny that you even know who he is.
This all rang very true to me. And, a dozen years later, after countless viewings, the charming plot still holds up. Thankfully, I don’t identify with vulnerable, risk-averse Amélie quite as closely as I once did, but I remain in awe of those who created her, writer Guillaume Laurant, writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and, of course, the inimitable actress Audrey Tautou. The specificity of Amélie’s world, the range and inventiveness of quotidian delights, the sheer number of images constructed, the soaring score, the pace of it all, and the audacity of creating, in Netflix parlance, a film “with a strong female lead,” (with subtitles, no less) will always amaze me. I also have a genre bias for what is, to my mind, the more challenging of the romantic-comedy narratives, that which requires an internal shift, daring to say, “Your life, exactly as it is, contains everything you need. You only have to be able to see it.” That’s a story I can watch over, and over again.
In my career as a writer, mostly for magazines, I rarely get to see people experience my work. (Sometimes it happens; usually on public transportation.) And so, last year, it was with great delight that I turned around in a darkened movie theater and scanned the faces of a festival audience as they watched the independent film that resulted from my first screenplay, which I co-wrote with director Martin Snyder. Missed Connections is a romantic-comedy that contains many of the elements I admire in other films in the genre. The romantic leads, Mickey Sumner and Jon Abrahams have a chemistry that’s all their own, but there’s space for a dynamic ensemble cast. It’s a love letter to a city, in this case New York, and to the idea that small communities within big places contain a lot of love. It also answers the question I often thought about while working at a big corporate publishing company: What could tech support do with all the gossip they can see on my computer? The movie contains, to borrow a phrase from Amélie, plenty of “strategems,” and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s one thing to have a good time writing something, and it’s another thing to watch people watching it. When I turned around in the 500-seat theater, I worried that I might see someone texting or, worse, leaving, but, instead, rows upon rows of people were laughing. And I think I even spotted a few people alone.
Marnie Hanel writes for the New York Times Magazine, W Magazine, and Marie Claire, among other publications. Her Vanity Fair column, “From Sketch to Still,” explores the creative process behind visually-enticing films. She is the co-writer of the independent feature film Missed Connections (May 2012), which won the Audience Award at the Savannah Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, and Gen Art Festival in New York. Follow Marnie on Twitter and Instagram @marniehanel and check out more of her work here.
Photo: Marnie Hanel, Waris Ahluwalia, Martin Snyder on the set of Missed Connections in NYC.
Read Missed Connections director Martin Snyder’s Guest Miramax Blog here.