Jeunet's film, "Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie de Montmartre" takes the viewer along with Amelie on the ride of her life thus far, dipping and turning to the nostalgic strains of the French accordian.
A commentary by Helen Frances
A fly buzzes into a deserted, cobbled street in the quartier of Montmartre, Paris. At the same time, two wine glasses dance in the wind on a tablecloth, a sperm and an egg come together, and an old man erases from his address book the name of a friend who has just died. Nine months later Amelie is born.
Jeunet's film, "Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie de Montmartre" takes the viewer along with Amelie on the ride of her life thus far, dipping and turning to the nostalgic strains of the French accordian. As the carousel of life turns and the fly flies, so the film presents many views, sounds, colours, characters and clues to the eyes and ears of the viewer.
The eye of the fly seems a useful image from which to explore some of the clues and connections offered by the film. The fly has composite eyes which present many pictures to the brain. The film also presents a multiplicity of images and sounds which may be supplemented by the associations of the viewer. For instance a fly's eyes could be said to look like a raspberry.
Amelie as a child, sucks raspberries off each finger at the beginning of the film - a passionately red, heart coloured fruit of many parts. And if the hands represent the "ego", the "I" or conscious "manager" and identification with the dominant function, then Amelie may be an introverted, dominant iNtuitive type personality with feeling as auxiliary, which is said to develop after intuition. From an MBTI type point of view, Amelie could be forming her NF identity, integrating, eating the fruits of this life stage.
So bearing in mind the whole red fruit, the eyes of the fly and the many details, personal, cultural and archetypal associations one could make I will mention some of the connections I have made with this film, assuming readers will have seen it.
Introversion, Intuition: A "box of delights"
As a child alone, Amelie creates a world for herself by using her imagination. Deprived of friends she gets used to this state and continues imagining into young adulthood, seemingly untouched by others. She copes very well by developing her natural introverted intuition along with strong personal values. When a neighbour tells her she has caused a car accident by taking a photograph, the child imagines she has caused all the disasters she sees in the world on television. Her revenge on the neighbour when she realises she has been duped, is correspondingly creative as she interrupts his viewing of a soccer game from her perch on the roof, by pulling the plug just when a goal is scored.
Introverted intuition with feeling can be very sensitive to, and understanding of the currents that move people. INF preference types often act as catalysts in their interactions with people, using their insights and empathy to help people realise their goals, sometimes subsuming their own needs for self actualisation in another's process. Princess Di, often referred to in the film, was an extreme example of this kind of NF activity and also represented for the collective, heart values that lie in the shadow of cultures that function predominantly as STJ. Amelie demonstrates this with her father, the old painter, Lucien - in fact she assumes a trickster role, using her earlier acquired capacity for creative revenge to teach the brutal shopkeeper Collingon, a lesson.
One of the problems with introverted intuition is the capacity for making connections from insufficient data and the attendant problem of living in a ghost world unrelated to the reality of others. This is where a function can "take us for a ride", although in Amelie's case it is not too severe. A nice image for this is when Amelie sits in Lucifer's car to go through the ghost tunnel and is moaned and groaned at by Nino, the young man she feels an "affinity", with dressed as a demon. She is as unafraid as with something totally familiar - the devil you know.
(Another extreme example of the devil at work inside is the character played by Dominique Pinon - the man who watches and records every interaction of his current lover as proof of his conviction that she will be unfaithful.)
Amelie's belief that the man, whose photo keeps recurring in Nino's photo album, is a ghost, is laid to rest by her meeting with the man and his tool kit. He is just the photo booth repair man. Such a plain fact is like a divine revelation from the outside world and changes the picture considerably. A breath of reality, like the wind on the terrace dancing with two wine glasses, or a sperm piercing an egg, can do the trick and bring fantasy tumbling down into a more grounded reality. It can take a lot to change an inner conviction for an introverted iNtuitive and outer reality may have a potent effect - be experienced at times as demonic or angelic (extraverted sensing, the inferior function). In this case the repair man (a potential ESTP type) leads Amelie closer to meeting her soul mate, Nino, the young man who puts torn photographs together.
This quiet young man works at a sex shop and a fun fair. He also has a passion for collecting unusual objects, such as photos of footprints made in fresh concrete, recordings of strange laughs and torn passport photos collected from photo booths around Paris. He could be, like Amelie, attempting to form a damaged sense of identity in very concrete ways, incomprehensible to most of those around him.
Nino's surname, Quincampoix, is also unusual. It is the name of a small, unremarkable street in the 4 arrondissement, near the art museum, Beaubourg, not too far from the central island of Paris and Notre Dame. It was mentioned as far back as 1203, when it was called Quiquenpoist.
The appearance of the street belies its history. If we use the analogy of a box, which Amelie discovers early in the film, lifting the lid of the street's background is like discovering the wealth of memories, dreams, emotions and idiosyncrasies of a personality.
A reviewer wrote this on the Metropole Paris web site.
"this rue Quincampoix is less than half a kilometre long and from three to no more than 10 metres wide. Today it is quiet and blue-grey and it is hard to imagine that 277 years ago it was thronged by 'corporations,' speculators, musicians, merchants and bankers; fortunes were made and lost, vast overseas enterprises were launched, and the famous Paris Opéra had its beginnings here - here in this little and mostly un-noticed street.
I knew none of this history when I turned into the rue Quincampoix today. I just had this feeling that there would be more to it than I could see - and there is, in the sense that most of the present buildings date from the later 17th and 18th centuries, and do not show much of the tremendous life that took place here".
Le jeu de l'oie or the Royal Game of Goose
The die is cast and the game begins with a wink from Amelie's mother, which soon becomes a neurotic tic. Is the film a wild goose chase? Life would be too tame without one. But then, wild goose chases can also lead into peril and pits of despair, the dungeons and labyrinths of imploding introversion which doggedly seeks confirmation of its own internal myth.
"Le jeu de l'oie est d'un symbolisme profond, un jeu de hasard et de dés. une spirale qui évoque l'enroulement du code biologique de l'A.D.N. (patrimoine génétique), un labyrinthe des fantasmes où l'on doit franchir les portes cabalistiques de la connaissance (transmission des savoirs)".
"The Game of the Goose is a highly symbolic board game whose spiral form is reminiscent of the structure of DNA. The game represents the labyrinth of the mind and the thresholds one has to cross to attain knowledge" - approx. trans.
The streets of Paris, are labyrinthine, and the city, divided into 20 arrondissements uncoils from the centre where Notre Dame stands (our Lady, the Catholic "Queen of Hearts"). The ancient French board game of chance, Le Jeu de L'Oie, is also a spiral, a journey to the centre, to the mother, the self, the heart, or the current life's task. This is where we begin and end and begin again.
The die is truly cast when Amelie hears the news of Princess Di's death. In shock, she drops a bottle top which rolls across the bathroom floor and knocks out a tile. This is where Amelie discovers the box of Bretodeau's childhood treasures and from there decides to step out from her isolation, first, through helping others (extraverted feeling).
Steven Walker's commentary talks about Amelie's task of achieving intimacy rather than staying in isolation. This is her current task, a central problem, which is not straightforward for an introverted young woman. She needs many strategies to advance her cause and there is no straightforward path.
Echos of the labyrinth motif resound in images such as the shell of the snail crawling on the dwarf's head. This is also an image for the slow, circular route by which Amelie puts her father in touch with his own heart's desire, and of the ways by which she meets Nino, the object of her's. Like father and a little like daughter - the introvert takes time to understand before acting.
The picture of Amelie's navel which entices Nino to meet her is also spiral and central, a feminine, erotic image. Montmartre, the quarter of Moulin Rouge and sex shops, the Sacre Coeur church all cluster around the themes of intimacy, connectedness and play. The round about carousel music reflects the themes in sound.
On the board of the game of goose are squares containing geese. These are lucky to land on, aa well as being a rich source of food. As it happens, there are two geese standing guard beside the shrine that Amelie's father builds to her mother. But he has added the dwarf with a tall red hat that his wife banished to the shed while she was alive. The mound, two geese and a gnome could be said to look like an amalgam of male and female. Active imagination?
The dwarf seems to hear the call of the geese to migrate ("l'oie" is the French word for "goose" and "L'Ouie" is the sense of "Sound") and Amelie acts as his agent to help her father out. The gnome travels around the globe, visiting monuments much larger than the shrine in the garden and appears regularly in postcards to the father, beckoning him to step onto the game board of life.
So within the square of the cinema screen we could be said to follow the labyrinthine path of Amelie's personal game of goose. The shape is a squared circle, an old symbol of the self. TV and computer screen are other modern versions. The new and the old together. Archetype and image. It is all about connecting.
Another French film which uses the Jeu de L'Oie motif is the experimental film Le Pont du Nord, by Jacques Rivette, 1982. It follows a young couple's personal journey around Paris even more closely, with spells in the Prison and Well and a confrontation with a dragon. Both films use archetypal motifs and riddles which tease introverted iNtuition to join in the hunt for the treasure of meaning "hidden" right under its nose.
The light bringers
Amelie is punctuated by the lightening flashes of cameras, videos and the sudden revelations of its characters. The French phrase "coup de foudre", flash of lightening, means to fall in love. This happens to Amelie and others, along with all love's illusion and delusion, pain and confusion, as well as joy. Emotion, however, is touched upon lightly in this carousel ride.
Bretodeau rediscovers his childhood and reconnects with his daughter and son Lucas -the name comes from the Latin root luc-is, meaning light. Lucien, the beaming Arab shop assistant, whose name is also derived from the same root, brings his joyousness into the life of a crusty old painter. And of course, there is Lucifer, grinning in the ghost train - whatever lights your candle!.
This is a light film that dances with the spirit of life and youth and the fantasy that is still Paris. There are still cobbled streets and micro communities in the city, and little shops where apartment dwellers meet and pass the time of day.
There and elsewhere, people continue to connect by chance or design, and to affect each others lives. C'est la vie! C'est fabuleux!
© 2002 By Helen Frances. All rights reserved.