Musings on Movies
How Amélie jumpstarted our digital lives: Why Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr owe atwee frenchwoman
Dec 11, 2011 | 7:00 am
I recently revisited Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 film, and it made me consider the influence of this César-winning, whimsical tour through Paris on the culture of Web 2.0.
You've probably all seen it. For a film that made only $33 million in the United States, there's almost no DVD more ubiquitous among collections of a certain age group than the green cardboard case of the special edition. A cult hit by any standard, Amélie and its precocious title character (played by the adorably pixie-ish Audrey Tatou) began a culture of twee-ness and self-important benevolence that informs much of our browsing time today.
A cult hit by any standard, Amélie and its precocious title character (played by the adorably pixie-ish Audrey Tatou) began a culture of twee-ness and self-important benevolence that informs much of our browsing time today.
As a character, Amélie is a shameless cipher. She is presented by the narrator of the film with certain eccentric characteristics, as if listing interests on a profile. She preoccupies herself with her scope of influence, interfering in the lives of her neighbors and coworkers after discovering an old box of a stranger's childhood treasures in her apartment.
By the end of the film, Amélie finds happiness by overcoming the anonymity she had clung to (much like we often do on the Internet, or at least did before we logged into everything with Facebook, and thus, as ourselves). It's a wonderful, beautifully made film, and the picture it paints of romantic whimsy has been hard to shake for the generation that's already prone to indulgent, social-media-inspired narcissism.
Thus the lush filters of Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography have led inexorably to apps that tint digital photos to make them look like polaroids discovered in dingy boxes, and sent college sophomores everywhere scouring Craigslist for Lomographic cameras.
The particular Parisian thrift of Amélie's fashion sense seems to be pervasive as well, extending to the zeal for handmade and retro garments on Etsy and other craft sites.
But the film seems most clairvoyant in the way it allegorized the broadening of our personal spheres, making the personal into the global and vice versa. To convince her father to travel, Amélie has a friend send pictures of his lawn-gnome in exotic locales — and in turn the Internet, full of images filtered through Facebook friends and microblogging sites like Tumblr, beckons us onward and upward in the same way.
Any Amélie fan must wonder on some level how he or she can brighten the lives of each and every Livejournal and Facebook friend, and touch each Twitter follower. The way Amélie places such importance on human interaction, while at the same time reducing each of them into an itemizable favor, prank, or secret message, she may as well have just been sending friend requests.
It's not that any of this is necessarily hollow, or even more than a subset of the Internet in general. There's clearly a larger Internet culture of cuteness (a lot of it cat-related) that informs all of these things more than one film possibly can.
But for the people in the overlap of Amélie fans and Internet users, it may be an intractable romanticism that has taken root, simply by the culture of Web 2.0 offering so many chances to interact with people in whimsical and Jeunet-ian ways. So we're all building the narrative of our own fabulous destinies, using these little bits of cinematic art direction that have sprouted online to keep a digital scrapbook, and piece by piece turn our lives into elaborate scavenger hunts and wait for the accordion music to start.
It might make reality seem a little lackluster at times, but it beats usenet groups and dial-up.