Why Amélie?

Associate Professor of French and Italian Robert Hudson cites Amélie’s magical realism as the de-facto reason why people should view the film in his lecture to BYU’s International Cinema.

Professor Robert Hudson approaches the podium. He is bearded, comfortable in his sports jacket, and when he opens his mouth, his Kentucky-drawl leaves you reflecting on non-existent memories of Appalachia. Hudson exchanges some friendly banter with International Cinema Co-director Daryl Lee before turning to the audience and pondering, “Why Amélie?” His question is fair: Amélie is a time-honored favorite of International Cinema and the subject of both Hudson’s lecture and the night’s screening. Once the silence has lingered enough, Hudson supplies the answer to his own question: Amélie contains the perfect blend of magical realism.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

So, just what is magical realism and how does it make Amélie, in Hudson’s opinion, one of the three French films that everyone should watch?

By Hudson’s definition, magical realism involves a “highly detailed, highly realistic setting invaded by something too strange to believe.” The genre involves the “mythic, fantastic, de-familiarizing, expansive, imagined, and uncanny” and brings all of these elements into everyday life.

Amélie, known also by its longer title, The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain, is a story of a girl who takes joy in life’s simple pleasures and dedicates herself to helping others. However, even with this simple plot, the film fully embraces elements of the fantastic and surreal within its narrative. The titular Amélie’s vivid imagination, which does everything from bringing clouds to life to spurring conversations with lamps and paintings, is what Hudson believes to be a modern utilization of fable. The juxtaposition of this fable, or things “that have no basis in reality,” with the ordinary reality that Amélie lives in creates a tale that lends an element of magic into the lives of ordinary people.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film’s director, makes heavy use of color to add vibrancy and depth to Amélie’s extraordinary world. Drawing from the art of Juárez Machado, Amélie’s cinematography combines earthy tones with eye-catching accent colors to create what Hudson described as a “whimsical, fantastic Paris.” He relates that, despite serving a mission in Paris and visiting again many times, in his mind, the city been tinted with the yellows and greens of Amélie. “That’s part of the magical realism,” Hudson explained. “Your memories are colored and hued and have filters on them as well.”

Hudson points out that when Jeunet, the director of Amélie, was making the film, he wanted to create a story that strayed from the “New Wave obsession with sad or, at best, enigmatic endings.” Jeunet felt that “people deserve to be happy,” and Amélie’s happy tone helps contribute to the overall magical realism. “It’s a film that works really well; the magical realism really comes out because you have two especially awkward Parisian kids who manage to find love,” said Hudson. “They are able to bring this joy to the circle of influence around them.”

At the conclusion of his lecture, Hudson revisited his question of “Why Amélie?” As a final answer, he quoted a line from Amélie itself: “Times are hard for dreamers.” He further shared, “Sometimes you need a movie that’s going to make you feel good because we live in a cynical world. We live in a world where you just get bad news every morning. Sometimes you need to be a dreamer. This film allows you to dream through magical realism. Times are hard for dreamers, but this film will let you dream.”


Eric Baker (News Media, ’18)

Eric Baker covers events for BYU’s International Cinema. He is a senior pursuing a degree in News Media with a minor in Political Science.