By Craig Joseph
And so it begins. With a romantic comedy, subtitled in French, that won several awards while also garnering a decent amount of everyday viewer acclaim. Not what I would have expected as your first choice, Mr. Barlow. How you keep me guessinOne of the things I most enjoy about this movie is the way its characters are introduced. The narrative voice over, often poetic, gets a bit choppy. The camera treats us to a montage of different images which catalog each person’s likes and dislikes – from father’s love of emptying, cleaning and reorganizing his toolbox to mother’s disdain for Amelie’s suicidal goldfish. These details are so specific, so unique and come in such rapid-fire succession that it’d be easy to assume that all the participants in the story are quirky and eccentric. Which they are.
But not merely so. What we find is that these very brief and simple brushstrokes are enough to clue us in to the fuller portraits of people with universal wants and needs. People whom we live with each day. Who feign illness and seek attention because they feel unloved. Who get mired in grief and allow their lives to go on permapause. Whose need to alphabetize their DVDs and align the spines of all the books on their shelves evidence a need for control and…wait, no one does that.
As viewers, we’re buffeted back and forth between laughing at and maybe even mocking some of these ridiculous characters, and – if we’re honest – recognizing ourselves in them and mustering up some empathy. Amelie works as a great “stand-in” for us; her introversion, shyness and intimacy issues give her enough distance to grasp these folks’ issues, but her benevolent heart and desire for connection catalyze her to use this knowledge toward good ends – a Parisian “pay-it-forward” of sorts.
I suspect this, in part, is why my self-avowed misanthropic, curmudgeonly and introverted friend, Tim, digs this film: it provides a modus operandi of sorts for dealing with people – a way to be coolly removed and apparently uninvolved on the outside, while deeply engaged, passionate and empathic internally. How do I know this? Because I’m also a bleeding heart who deeply loves people, but uses irony and cynicism to protect myself from the hurt and disappointment they sometimes cause. Yes.
But we’re talking about Tim here. This is his movie. And more often than not, I’m the recipient of Amelie-like love that he sends in my direction. Small details remembered over months that indicate a level of care and concern not matched by intense declarations of friendship. Gentle quips or prods which remind me that I’m behaving kind of ridiculously. An unexpected and unassuming act of service or generosity that turns the tide of an unpleasant day or week. I’m not going to canonize him; he’s no Mother Teresa. But Tim – and this movie – make me wonder if it takes a bit of distance to be able to see people in all of their specific quirks AND universal needs – and find a way to love them in both.