"So Amélie is not the film to come to if you want to learn about what Paris is really like"Canal+

I rewatched Amélie again the other night, and like every time I watch that film, I cried about three times. The film’s every second is designed to tug at the heartstrings with maximum efficiency. It might just be the perfect date movie, or at least the perfect film to watch on a summer evening on a flowery terrace with a glass of rosé.

However, in my native France, the film is approached with suspicion, sometimes even open hatred. Mostly because its quaint-ified image of Paris has no black people in it, which is nothing short of ludicrous. Furthermore, it only has one Arab character, although Jamel Debbouze’s natural Moroccan accent is rather underplayed. Thankfully they refrain from giving him a CGI arm, not least because the CGI in Amélie is Ang-Lee’s-Hulk levels of appalling. When filming on location, the crew had to clear the areas of trash and graffiti, which anyone who’s been to Paris will confirm is no easy task. It seems that this same ‘cleaning’ of Paris involved getting rid of a whole segment of its population.

“It might just be the perfect date movie, or at least the perfect film to watch on a summer evening on a flowery terrace with a glass of rosé”

Or rather, there are black people in Amélie, they’re just glimpsed in photographs for half a second or on a screen as part of a 1950’s American TV clip, as if black people only belonged in this semi-fantastical Paris as some sort of far-removed oddity, like a clip of an escaped horse galloping after a bicycle race. The problem here isn’t that the lead character isn’t black, it’s that black characters literally aren’t included in a film which explicitly seeks out to draw an aestheticised picture of the working classes in late 90s Paris.

Another point which sticks out about the film’s politics, albeit in a much stranger way, is its depiction of the homeless. Homelessness is visible everywhere in Paris, and simply cannot be left out of any attempt to fully represent the city. Early on in the film, Amélie offers a homeless man a coin, but he replies “No thank you, madam, I never work on Sundays.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that joke. It’s quite funny, but what’s funny isn’t that asking for money isn’t a real job, but rather that the homeless condition does not allow for such a thing as “an off day.” The joke works perfectly because it simultaneously puts us in areas of comfort and discomfort: discomfort because of the clear disconnection between the film and reality, and comfort because it’s the film saying that in its world homelessness doesn’t make it impossible to make jokes and be as optimistic as the rest of its population.

“It looks like the film is saying: ‘I have no time for such complicated, realistic depictions,’ but then why raise the question?”

That which is strange about Amélie’s depiction of homelessness comes later. When Amélie gets the train, the film literally speeds up as a homeless man starts asking people on it for money. This moment is barely long enough to register, but is still extremely weird. All we hear is the very familiar refrain of “Hello, ladies and gentlemen, sorry to bother you,” which you’re almost guaranteed to encounter on Parisian public transport. The question is, why include it if it is sped over? Why include it at all when it’s so dissonant with the film’s earlier depiction of homelessness? It looks like the film is saying: ‘I have no time for such complicated, realistic depictions,’ but then why raise the question?

So Amélie is not the film to come to if you want to learn about what Paris is really like. Instead, I would direct you towards the landmark La Haine, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who plays Amélie’s love interest. It’s almost as if Kassovitz was cast not only for his excellent voice and spot-on deer-in-the-headlights look, but also to somehow say that “Amélie’s OK because this director who does make socially complicated films thinks it’s OK.”

This doesn’t work, of course, and I think that, though these complaints aren’t game breakers because social issues aren’t the film’s subject, they should give us pause when it comes to praising Amélie as a work of art. Of course, I cannot help but love the film, but I do so despite these flaws

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