|by David Michael
After making his studio debut with Alien: Resurrection, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of The Lost Children) returns home to make a film that has captured the soul of French people and, in turn, discovered a French Audrey Hepburn. In France, Amelie has very much been the film of the people, shining above all adversity. On it’s domestic release one critic called it a video clip for the National Front, referring to its sentimental white vision of Paris, while the Cannes Jury refused its entry to the festival. Despite the hurdles of the establishment, the public has embraced Amelie by voting with their feet, typified by the French president Jacques Chirac, who after seeing the domestic box office smash told the director, "that's the best evening in my life”. Having done immense box office around the world, Jeunet’s modern day fairytale is now being tipped to bring home the Best Foreign Film Oscar. But who is "Amelie"?
“I admit Amelie is me!” Declares Jeunet. “I had all these notes, anecdotes and short stories I had been collecting since childhood and I was trying to find a way of bringing them altogether,” explains the director. It was only after he finished filming Alien that he found the solution. “Finally I figured out that the key to bringing all this together was the fact of this young girl who decides to set everybody’s life straight, then everything flowed from then on.”
The girl he had in mind to be the focus for his efforts was English actress Emily Watson. Actually called ‘Emily’, the girl was to have been born in a London suburb, moving to Paris in her teenage years. For personal reasons Watson dropped out, and ‘Emily’ became ‘Amelie’.
It’s now impossible to imagine the film without the cheeky cute beauty of lead Audrey Tautou. Already widely dubbed by the world’s press as the French Audrey Hepburn.
“I only saw two French actresses,” begins Jeunet. “Audrey happened to be the first one, I’m rather demanding usually, with a casting session I see ten to twenty actresses, but in this case it only took about four seconds for me to realise it was going to be Audrey. It was a very emotional experience, because you’ve been actually picturing someone in your mind for months, sometimes a year and then suddenly to have that person materialise in front of your eyes is like a miracle.”
Is the actress as cheeky as her character in Amelie? “On the set she was a right bitch! Just joking, it’s quite the contrary,” laughs the director. “Audrey is very professional, she’s as meticulous as I am, so once we had agreed on things there was never the need to do it differently. She has a natural grace in front of the camera so everything comes very naturally”.
Mainly dressing in red, do-gooder Amelie is like a modern day Red Riding hood, who mischievously and charmingly endeavours to lighten up people’s lives by twisting fate in their favour.
And my-my what big eyes she’s got…“We use a special lens and focus in a special way to make the eyes look bigger,” reveals Jeunet, dispelling the secret of the wide-eyed tendencies of his movies (the eyes peeping out of the dustbin in Delicatessen). “So when you’re using actresses that are very beautiful, such as Winona Ryder (Alien 4) and Audrey Tautou, then of course the effect is wonderful. The actress sometimes looks like a fawn, and I think this is very beautiful.”
Like all his films, the root of their splendour is Jeurnet’s imagination and visual sense, which he puts down to “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”. In the film, Montmartre, Paris looks sensational - the stuff of dreams nevermind glossy holiday brochures.
“The idea was to transform the reality of the Paris of dreams and the Paris that I remember when I arrived from the provinces. The problem is when you live around beautiful things you have the tendency not to see them anymore. I left Paris and was away for two years directing Alien, but when I came back to Paris and rediscovered it, I thought that was exactly what I wanted to do.”
But this romantic vision of Paris differs from reality as Jean-Pierre points out. ‘It rains, there’s traffic jams and there is dog poop in the streets that you can slip on’.
In short, he had a clean up job to do.
“To transform it we had to do several things like cleaning the graffiti and getting rid of the cars – there are far too many cars in Paris. When the weather wasn’t very good and the sky was grey, we altered this in the digital post production phase.”
The end product is a far cry from the macabre and warped worlds of Delicatessen and The City of the Lost Children, Amelie illuminates positivity and joy, which was a prerequisite for the director.
“We had expected people when they left the movie theatre to come out with a big smile on their face, but it went well beyond are expectations. People were deeply moved, seeing the film over and over again, we heard that some people even said their lives had changed after watching the film – I received an email from a young girl saying that she had copied Amelie and she was on a bus and told her life story to some one who was blind.”
While he admits Amelie is essentially himself, he is pragmatic in comparing himself to the character. “I don’t claim to change people’s lives as Amelie does in the film and I wish I could.” But as a director, Jeunet realises he may be in a good position to actually do so. “As it’s been said, it’s easier to communicate with 800 people sitting in a darken room than actually communicate with a friend.”
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=487
originally posted: 01/09/02 14:54:57
last updated: 01/09/02 15:32:28