In Amélie (2001), Jean-Pierre Jeunet uses nostalgia as the foundation for his “feel good” film. The film evokes both a physical and spiritual longing for something from the past through recollections of distant fading memories. This paper will provide a critical analysis of Jeunet’s film by exploring the ways in which he expresses the sense of nostalgia and the significance of these portrayals. The paper will also discuss Jeunet’s particular vision of the world, possible reasons for such a portrayal and some of the broader implications of the film’s “retro” tendencies.
The film is nostalgic on many levels. Firstly, Amelie’s childhood reflects our own. Through young Amelie, we remember finding pleasures from the ordinary – playing with papers, making funny faces on glass panels, arranging dominos just to watch them fall, watching a coin spin on its edge and peeling off dried glue from our little fingers. Also, the death of Amelie’s mother evokes bitter nostalgia from our experience of dealing with the loss of our loved ones. The sight of Amelie’s beloved teddy bear in the garden soon after her mother’s death shows us Amelie’s strength despite her young age – she had realized the need to let go of her beloved mother. This vision of Amelie’s childhood shows us that children are maybe much stronger than we give them credit to be.
Amelie’s experience with nostalgia within the film makes us feel part of the film – with nostalgia acting as a common ground. When she met a blind man playing a black vinyl record, she was reminded of the time she made her own vinyl record using black paint. Nino Quincampoix’s troubled past as a bullied child was disturbing nostalgia, yet significant as it reminds us that who we are today is a product of both good and bad experiences. This helps to reemphasize the realism aspect of the film.
The film also evokes memories of our retro school days. When Collignon told Amelie to look for his ‘elephant mom’, we asked ourselves whether an elephant has a good memory. When we were told how Bretodeau ‘loves picking the hot carcass with his fingers starting with the oysters’, we quietly thought about the link between chicken and oysters. When Felix Lerbier ‘learns there were more links in his brains than the atoms in the universe’, we wondered if this was the case.
Love is perhaps the most crucial touch of nostalgia in the film. Amelie seems to represent the person we were, are or hope to be when it comes to getting our love at first sight. Through her love story, perhaps Jeunet hopes for the introvert among us to realize the need to ‘go and get him, for Pete’s sake’ and not wait for things to happen. Through Dufayel, Jeunet screams to the cowards among us: ‘You can take life’s knock. If you let this chance go by, eventually your heart will become …dry and brittle’. Jeunet’s use of nostalgia manages to strike a chord deep within us and therefore, making us more receptive to his messages in the film. By evoking bitter sweet yet memorable memories of our past, the film leaves us with a feeling, and hence a film, that we never want to forget. Nostalgia has played a highly significant role in the film.
‘In such a dead world, Amelie prefers to dream she’ll earn enough to leave home.’ Jeunet presented the current world as dead and immediately after, introduced us to “Amelie’s world”. Amelie manages to live her dream left home to work in Montmartre at the Two Windmills. We were then introduced to a host of characters: Suzanne the café owner, Hipolito the failed writer, Georgette the tobacconist, and Philomene the air hostess. We were given a brief background of these characters including their likes and dislikes – despite the fact that their superficial stories seems to have no direct consequence on the film.
However, I suggest that they do. Perhaps, Jeunet presented us this particular vision as he wanted us to start caring about the people around us. Having made us “follow” Amelie in her journey through life right from the journey of ‘the sperm …belonging to Raphael Poulain’, Jeunet did not want us to make the mistake of focusing solely on Amelie. It could be his way of reminding us that those around us have stories of their own that are just as interesting as the ones around Amelie. Jeunet might have noticed that we tend to get too caught up with our busy lives that we forget about things like helping people in need– like the blind man whom Amelie helped crossed the road. At the same time, Jeunet portrayal of the world through the eyes of an introvert illustrates to us that the world is dead only if we want it to be. Through Amelie, Jeunet has shown how ‘a dead world’ can be simple, beautiful and meaningful at the same time. All we need to do is to change our view on life and the world will immediately come to life.
The film retro tendencies – successfully achieved primarily through nostalgia with the support of the sepia effects, the soft yellow light, the classical background music, the black and white motion pictures – exude a dreamy and nostalgic feeling that gave us the illusion that Amelie’s world is different from our world and led us into thinking that whatever we see during the film belongs to the past. However, the fact that the film managed to touch our hearts showed that its beauty, simplicity and selfless traits remain valid even in today’s context.
The strength of Jeunet’s Amélie lies in its ability to alter our perception and to entice us to go deep within ourselves with the techniques used and emotions which it evoked. Through nostalgia, the power of imagination and the universal language of love, the film managed to demolish the wall that separates the past and present, the possible and the impossible and, the real and the fantastic. Finally, the film’s retro tendencies brought together Jeunet’s messages in the film as he demonstrated how beautiful life can be if we simply stop for a moment and let our minds roam free.
Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Perf. Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz. DVD. Miramax, 2001.