Learning from the Masters – Amélie
Amélie, my favourite film, period. Story, language, beauty, detail, simple, mystery, humor, elegance, bright, musical, color, all of these describe this film. Perfect for the first entry in a series titled “Learning from the Masters”. This series recognizes beautiful films, films that simply feel gorgeous.
Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain was directed by the French Director Jean-Pierre Jeanet and written by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeanet. Director of Photography Bruno Delbonnel and Composer Yann Tiersen worked with Jean-Pierre to bring Amélie to life. Jean-Pierre is a pre-production fanatic and perfectionist and it definitely shows.
As mentioned earlier Amélie is a harmonious blend of story, lighting and music that leaves the viewer with a comfortable dose of pleasure filled emotion by films end. With a color palette borrowing inspiration from a variety of artists notably Brazilian painter Juarez Machado, Amélie is filled with reds, yellows, and greens with an occasional spot of blue.
These scenes needed something to contrast the strong red push so blue lamps were added in post. Director of Photography Bruno Delbonnel says Jean-Pierre really liked the way it looked but could not do it for every scene as it would become too obvious.
Jean-Pierre wanted a bright, saturated look with a happy feel which is a contrast to some of his earlier films. Jean-Pierre is a big fan of wide angle lenses. He also has motivated camera movement to carry the viewer through the story.
Jean-Pierre loves actors with odd facial features. Combined with a wide angle lens and dolly push it really gives the viewer a slightly distorted sense of reality.
A very magical thing happened with Amélie, something that as has happened with other groundbreaking films like Jurassic Park and the original Tron. Technology was at the right place at the right time. In 2000 the Coen Brothers released O’ Brother Where Art Thou, credited as the first film to have the color timing process done 100% digitally vs during film processing (referred to as a Digital Intermediate or DI for short).
Jean-Pierre was definitely excited to use digital color grading in order to achieve the precise color and look he desired for this film. In behind the scenes interviews from the Amélie DVD, Jean-Pierre noted that he was very disappointed with some of the past films he’d directed because of lab color timing results, particularly Delicatessen. He made the argument that your vision is at the mercy of the film lab and that it can be extremely frustrating and disappointing.
While still a brand new process (DI) , I personally feel Amélie turned out beautiful. Nothing felt forced to me even though the colors where obviously oversaturated and pushed to red and green. For me, it was a perfect marriage of style and story causing the two elements to blend together so perfectly, neither one stole from the other.
Here are few more stills from the film-
The cafe where Amélie works.This is a real cafe just a few blocks from Jean-Pierre’s residence. He mentions in his interview that the owner was ready to call it quits on the cafe and it actually took about a year to convince them to let him film there. Since the success of the movie, the cafe’s business is thriving, they are alive and well and the cafe has become a must see for tourists.
Amélie’s flat, one of the best lit scenes along with the Glass Man’s house. These two locations were shot in studio not on location.
This particular morning yielded rain which Jean-Pierre did not care for. He added fog to cover the rain even though he says fog would never actually be present there. As a person who maps out his films with extremely detailed shot lists, test shots, and storyboards, Jean-Pierre told viewers in his interview that he never wants to shoot outside again, he said it was very frustrating. Director of Photography Bruno Delbonnel vividly recalls the same about Jean-Pierre’s thoughts on shooting outside.
Here is a scene at the produce venders flat. Classic soft lighting on Audrey with pools of light delicately placed in the background.
I love this shot (also at the produce venders flat) I would love to know if they carried the practical with another light. Based on Audrey’s eyes I’m thinking not.
This is a scene in the cafe with Amélie and Nico. I really like the way it’s shot. There is a continuity error in this scene, guess you’ll have to watch it to try and find it.
This is one of the most challenging camera moves in the film, very graceful and very cinematic. Apparently Audrey Tautou, as beautiful as she is, can’t skip stones very well. On a challenging shot like this sometimes it’s easier to add the element in post and that’s exactly what they did.
This shot from the beginning of the film has two wine glasses dancing on a table cloth. Apparently Jean-Pierre saw this actually happen and decided to incorporate it in the film. Turned out to be extremely difficult to reproduce.
In closing, I really hope if you haven’t seen this film, you take some time to do so. If you are interested in Pre-Production watch the behind the scenes. The DVD/Blu-Ray is full of behind the scenes elements and is such a treat to watch. The film is a great learning tool for people interested in production and it breaks away from some of the more popular choices filmmakers make. In particular for Amélie, camera lens selection was all wide angle during what is currently a long running trend of shooting everything on a longer lens. I find films tend to resonate so much better to audiences when the technical decisions are made based on story not popularity.