Sean and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary in Paris; today we’re actually renewing our wedding vows at the Eiffel Tower so I’m posting about a wonderfully romantic French film about love and life in Paris through the eyes of an idealistic and imaginative young woman.
Gloriously known as Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (translation: The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain), this film introduced the rest of the world to Audrey Tautou, seemingly born to play the role though it was actually written specifically for Emily Watson, who turned it down because she doesn’t speak French. A passion project for director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, he’s been collecting the various memories and curiosities that make up the story of Amélie since 1974. Who knew that the guy who brought us Alien: Resurrection had such magic and whimsy in him?
Amélie was brought up in a rather protected fashion, her father being very concerned about her supposed heart condition. To make up for her isolation, a young Amélie lives in her imagination, and her grown-up self is still very much a dreamer, a wondrous observer and devoutly introverted. She devotes her life to making others happy, and lucky for us, she’s surrounded by a very quirky bunch.
For her father, she fulfills his lifelong dream of travel (tough for a recluse) by stealing his treasured lawn gnome and sending it all over the world. This was inspired by true events – in fact, a rash of pranks perpetrated in the 1990s in England and France.
The traveling gnome was inspired by a rash of similar pranks played in England and France in the 1990s. In fact, the theft of garden gnomes is so pervasive it even has a name – “gnoming.” A gnome is taken from someone’s garden and released back “into the wild” (wherever that is for an inanimate object – the shelves of Walmart?). In 1997, a the leader of the Garden Gnome Liberation Front was convicted of stealing over 150 gnomes – his prison sentence was suspended, but he did pay a hefty fine. (A couple of years later, there was a “mass suicide” of garden gnomes in a small town in France – residents woke up to find 11 gnomes hanging from a bridge, swinging from the nooses around their necks). At any rate, Amélie was responsible for bringing the whole garden gnome kidnapping thing to our attention, and the idea was later used by Travelocity in an ad campaign.
Although the movie is shot in a dreamy sort of way, with Paris polished, glowing, and blemish-free, some of the locations can actually be found in Montmartre. The cafe where Amélie works, for example, can be found on Rue Lepic (and is conveniently also named “Les Deux Moulins”). The fruit store run by M. Collignon is at 56 rue des Trois Frères. And of course the church where Amélie’s mother is crushed to death by a suicidal jumper is none other than the uber-famous Notre Dame cathedral.
Amélie’s watchful neighbour paints the same painting yearly – he’s up to 40 copies of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, and he still hasn’t got the girl-drinking-water’s expression quite right. Pierre-Auguste Renoir is a French artist of the impressionist variety and I’m looking forward to ogling his stuff at the Museé de l’Orangerie, but that particular painting can actually be found in The Phillipps Collection in Washington, DC.
If you haven’t seen this, you should, and if you have, no time like the present for a re-watch!