Amelie: Technical Considerations to help you appreciate the film Essay
This resource is designed to be used with clips from the film Amelie, as part of an ‘Auteur Study’ of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, as well as his Hollywood foray, Alien Resurrection. The techniques used by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and cinematographer Bruno Dubonnell are primarily used to create the tone and atmosphere appropriate to the genre of this film: a romantic comedy.
The duality of the emotions required to create the desired effect in this genre (this means something that will be both funny and heart-warming) is also coupled with the individual creative vision of the director in shaping something that pushes the boundaries of traditional visual language. Consider how each of the technical devices below assist in this creation. Pseudo and real historical footage used in Amelie’s vision of herself as martyr.Solemn voiceover and added diegetic sound; old, public funeral footage (1900’s) are mixed with manipulated images of Amelie (scratched, black and white, sped-up, flickering images of her in a variety of situations) to place her at this time. Iconography of both Mother Theresa and Princess Di suggests the two dreams that Amelie has for herself: the “Queen of Hearts” and the selfless guardian angel. Along with the cast drawn Amelie’s real life – for hers is an associative vision drawn from the characters whom with she has interaction – these metaphorical images give the viewer an insight into the sort of emotional forces tugging at her.
What is humorous is the imaginative absurdity of the montage of Amelie’s life (her looking after the blind man in the Alps) as well as Amelie’s tearful response to her own cinematic obituary. Sound and image are joined to mock the sort of solemn delivery of these sorts of television pieces. . Other incidents that use this flashback technique of B + W footage also include her speculation on Nino’s disappearance. This montage is created from both old film footage (an absurd mix of Crash test dummy footage, Gangster film, Film Noir, Soviet Newsreel footage) is intercut with actual footage of Nino filmed to look like old newsreel clips.The opening sequence, although not B + W, has been technically manipulated to appear to be shot on 8 mm in “home movie” style – flickering images (enhanced by audio ‘tick-ticking’ of the end of the 8 mm roll), erratic lighting and colour consistency. The effect as the opening credits roll is that we are watching Amelie’s life as a child, full of typical childish things (find Jeunet quote on this), and yet always alone (again the echoing solo piano helps establish this endearing and melancholic tone in the film)Film Speed Manipulation or ‘Ramping’ is used throughout the film, in conjunction with an array of sound effects (often drawn from railway stations/trains) to keep the pace of the film up, as we roar in on characters or objects.
The pacing up also works to create a surreal and quirky feel to the film. For example when Amelie cuts the letters up in a blur of speed. This example could be read as time-compression device but is also the quirky manipulations of time that Jeunet likes experimenting with.Other examples of this in the film are the sped-up linking shots between Amelie visiting the various Bedoteaux (not Betodeau), again accompanied by racing car noise sound effects.
There is also the use of slow motion to create little moments of tension, and even time lapse (Amelie’s birth, the seasons’ affect on the teddy bear in the garden) in keeping with the film’s pacing. Camerawork Other camera work of note is the frenetic hand-held camerawork of the blind man’s journey, narrated by Amelie and carried along by Yann Tiersen’s ‘breathless’ accordion accompaniment.The pace is heightened by sharp jump-cutting and the camera being zoomed in to accentuate the jerky movement and characters’ glimpses, visually replicating the nature of Amelie’s narration.
A comic device used extensively is Amelie addressing the viewer directly. This is colloquially known as “mugging”. She will look at us, as if we are in on the joke or the perversity she has observed. This technique is an easy way for Jeunet to focus the narrative on her (she is the only one to do it, except for Nino at the end) and thus make her a sympathetic character in our eyes.The extensive use of crane and dolly The use of the track/crane device is common in most films but Jeunet’s controlled use of it to compose and re-compose long takes is breathtaking at times.
There are many examples of the camera swooping over characters or objects, chasing or circumnavigating figures. The fluidity of motion is entirely in keeping with the insistent pace that Jeunet sets in the film. As a rule, there is usually more than one tracking shot in a sequence; to continue the visual ‘flow’, tracking shots are joined together.See the scene where Nino drops his briefcase. In this case, the tracking/craning sequence stops with Amelie looking at the “photo album” with accompanying voice over. Montage sequences are liberally used in all of Jeunet’s films, and in the editing process, a key element to the style of the film.
He puts greater emphasis on montage as a narrative device, than mis-en-scene. For example, the orgasm sequence with fast visual and hard audio cuts to create pace and humour. The device is used to connect series’ of images to create a singular effect.For example, the initial montages jumpcut us through conceptions of childhood and this frenetic pace continues through the film. The “likes and dislikes” sequences create humour through their absurd, quirky collection of such things, as wrinkling in the bath and cleaning the parquet floor.
These sequences also anchor the figures in our world, the world of individual fetishes and phobias that we all have. Wide angle lens is used as an effective tool for creating facial distortion.The standard “portrait” lens is 50-100 mm but the wide lens is something like 16 mm and creates greater depth within the frame. When shooting a person in close-up, the facial features distort. The shots in Amelie often track in on the figures, isolating them in the frame. As the camera gets closer, their features loom out at us. This can be both comic (see Amelie’s mum and dad intro), or grotesque (the butcher in Delicatessen), when used in conjunction with other technical devices as sound, lighting etc.
Lighting: the warm-toned, roseate light contributes to the atmosphere of the film, and its setting (Paris) that doesn’t really exist like this: no dog poo, happy beggars, entirely Caucasian. These sepia tones hint that this is film is set in another time, or give Amelie a timeless feel, and add to the sense of nostalgia that is evoked by both the characters and the genre: a romantic love story (See commentary on very little technology used in the film).For much of the interior shots, the lighting is diffused.
Another aspect of the lighting contributing to the creation of a mythical Montmartre is Jeunet’s reaction against the French film movement that has defined French cinema since the 1950’s – the “Nouvelle Vague” or New Wave. The group of film makers (led by directors such as Jean Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut) presented a realistic world that exalted the grimness of existence and explored the mundane routines in average people’s lives.Jeunet’s style can be described as “Magical Realism” (a term that applies to literature – particularly in South American authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabella Allende who introduced fantastic elements into “normal” events as if they were just part of the landscape).
The extensive use of voice-over also adds to the surreal world that Jeunet has created (see notes at bottom of page). Audio manipulation: As in many films, the post-production audio work is important to the overall atmosphere created.The non-diegetic sounds (that which couldn’t be heard by the characters in the film) and diegetic sounds often blur because of the use of sound effects (non-diegetic) that occur in real life (or particularly in Amelie’s) – such as trains, cars and air brakes – but used as a sort of aural pun (like a visual metaphor).
For example, when Amelie moves from one Bredoteau to the next, we hear traffic noises, or when she comes to a halt at the photo booth, we hear a train stopping. This effective blend of audio engineering reflects the subtleties of realistic and fantastic elements in the film.We hear added sound, but it is as if it is part of the world of of the film. Often non-diegetic and diegetic work together.
See Lucien’s insults of Collignon, accompanied by increasing musical volume, to the point where Dufayel cries out for him (and it) to stop. Soundtrack: music composed by Yann Tiersen alternates between melancholic piano and his whimsical, “giddy accordian strains” (Walter Chow) that add buoyancy and zest to the fluidity of action that moves effortlessly from scene to scene. The repeated musical themes take on a metaphorical value as suggesting moods.For melancholic: the goldfish releasing and her final baking, as opposed to the joy of the blind man’s tour.
The frenetic voiceover, supplied by Andre Dussollier, works to heap information and comically absurd detail (summarising Amelie’s childhood and the forces that have shaped her, the people and places around her, their likes and dislikes – including the cat) at the beginning of the film in a deadpan delivery. The opening also introduces the thematic ideas of Amelie’s world being one of small wonders (the dancing glasses) and quirky details (the erasing of a dead friend’s name from an address book. It seamlessly enters the film when the film’s narrative needs added information, or to add character detail (“15”! ) but without being intrusive or stating the obvious.
Its use diminishes in the second half so that the voiceover doesn’t act as a voice of morality or an “editorial voice” at the end of the film. Other technical aspects could include the extensive use of CGI (computer-generated images) such as Amelie’s imaginary “sick monster’, her animated paintings and lightstand, and her own liquefaction in the cafe.The use of these effects contributes to the sense of fantasy and whimsy in this film, and supports Jeunet’s willingness to break from the realism that he despairs about in French cinema. Other editing features such as split screens and multi-layered images (see Amelie seeing ‘the man in red shoes’ for the first time, with the composite photo pieces flashing over the man’s face) all show a director who is exploring technical aspects to communicate ideas in a creative and original way.
Because Jeunet uses this technique in a number of ways throughout the film, it can be seen as part of his style that is recognisable, or his ‘auteurship’ (this term means he is the ‘author’ – wrote and directed the film). Many of the points made in this sheet are also part of his identifiable “signature”. Together they are evidence of his unique style. When we see Delicatessen or City of Lost Children, we see the same techniques used time and again.
Be aware that although this is Jeunet’s first French film without collaborator Marc Caro, we can see all his clever visual and aural tricks that he used in his first two films.