Rates: * * * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? An all time favourite that I hadn’t seen for too long.
In 2001 I lived in Sydney, in a tiny apartment in Glebe. I could walk to work in the city, walk down to Glebe markets on a Saturday and, best of all, walk to the Valhalla cinema on Glebe Point Rd. This was one of the city’s last truly independent cinemas, run by a handful of film nerds on no budget, out of what was once a glorious old theatre palace, slowly collapsing into ruin. It looked like the Grand Budapest Hotel.
I saw a lot of movies at the Valhalla during this time (it’s long closed now); in keeping with the for-love-not-money vibe of the place, the tickets were cheap and the programming exotic. A lot of cult/weirdo/underground and foreign films.
This is where I first saw ‘Amelie’. And right from the opening minute, right from the moment that the melancholic happy-sad music started up, I knew: this was it. Here was a film I had been waiting for, without knowing it.
This was also the last film I saw with my brother.
He isn’t dead or anything, but we have never really been that close, and now we are older we live our lives and don’t interact much. We have always been different people, with very different personalities and interests. But, when we were younger, the one thing we did bond over a bit was movies.
I grew up in a single parent household. My parents split up when I was little, and I didn’t have much to do with my dad after that. Mum went back to work when I started school, so in the school holidays my brother, ten years older, was stuck with childminding duties. Which often meant: movies, which suited us both.
Although, to earn my movie, I did usually have to accompany him on strange errands and promise not to complain. By ‘strange errands’ I mean stuff like: going to military memorabilia stores, and waiting patiently while he looked at old uniforms and weaponry. There would be this musty old shop, dimly lit in my memory, with racks of old gas masks, deactivated grenades and surplus uniforms, two or three men (always men) in their sixties, browsing, and my 16 year old brother, peering earnestly at this stuff for who knew what reason (I guess he had his own collection, at home). It was both weird AND boring, which is not a combination you come across that often. But I would be keen enough to see a film that I bring a book and sit in the corner till he’d had enough.
A very odd cat, my brother.
In any case, together, as part of child minding, we saw classics like ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘The Secret of Nimh’, ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Gremlins’. And, my brother being my brother and so also having odd taste in movies, forgotten and truly terrible movies from the era like ‘Firefox’ (Clint Eastwood steals a futuristic plane), ‘Blue Thunder’ (Roy Scheider steals a futuristic helicopter), and ‘Victory’ (Sylvestor Stallone inexplicably leads an english soccer team to victory over the Nazis in WWII).
We were decades out of the habit by the time ‘Amelie’ came along. But, for some reason, I called him up out of the blue and asked him if he wanted to come with me to see it, and he did. And, I remember we had an excellent afternoon; he laughed his head off, which he didn’t do that often.
And this has been a long and roundabout way of saying: it is hard for me to write about this movie. It is not something I can think about objectively, and I don’t want to: I really, truly, love it.
But here are a few of my very favourite bits; the way Amelie’s goldfish and her look at each other when they release it into the river, the way she handles the little treasure box she finds in the wall, and the original owners shocked astonishment when she returns it to him, the bizarre but delightful animal paintings in Amelie’s flat (done by a real artist: Michael Sowa), her deleriously elaborate strategems, and wildly exaggerated fantasties when things go well or badly, all of the things she points out to the blindman in one minute, her vindictive takedown of the nasty greengrocer who lives across the hall, ‘I am nobody’s little weasel’ and ‘Colignon: Big Moron!’, the cupboard full of copies of ‘The Boating Party’, the animated lamp that turns itself off, the ripped picture that comes to life and tells the guy he’s in love, the man who works out that there are more neural connections in his brain than atoms in the universe, the clothes, the colours, the music, the glorious Parisian skyline.
And a million others.
But, under the cute stylings and quirky plot mechanics, this is a film about lonely people. Amelie, at film’s start, does elaborate scheming because she doesn’t know any other way, and is terrified of opening herself up by connecting to someone.
This is a film about how she learns to take one small step towards another person; an optimistic and hopeful movie about the beauty of being one of life’s outsiders.
View my list of 100 favourite movies here.