Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yeah, I like 'Amelie.' What of it? (Or: It's OK if you like the 'Star Wars' prequels.)

This Guardian essay on the 10th anniversary of 'Amelie' has me a little defensive, casting the movie as syrupy and cloying:
Amélie didn't bother to adjust to the 21st century at all. It revelled in its Eurodisneyfication of Montmartre, as Libération's Philippe Lançon put it. At the start of a decade of strife and realpolitik, it was already a film out of time, for the dreamers only. There is a pivotal scene where Audrey Tautou realises there is a banal explanation for the man who appears repeatedly in the album of discarded photobooth headshots: he is a photobooth repairman. This peek-behind-the-curtain feels like a Wizard of Oz homage, but unlike Dorothy, it doesn't liberate Amélie. She still needs someone else to shove her out of clotted fantasia, even when it threatens her happiness.
You know what? I still love 'Amelie," still adore Audrey Tatou's performance in the film. It is charming and winsome—and yeah, more than a bit precious. But so what? It's a movie that delights me every time I see it—makes me feel better, and even sometimes makes me feel more ambitious about my own life. I don't want to subsist on a diet of sugar, no—and 'Amelie' is a movie I can't really watch more than every couple of years—but every once in awhile just the right dessert can be an amazing thing.

We sometimes brandish our tastes—in art, music, and movies—as weapons: Sometimes used defensively, to avoid others thinking poorly of us, and sometimes offensively, to put others in their place. But what's treacle to me might be inspiring to you. I'm not against appraising works of art, putting them in their context, and trying to render some judgement on their quality. But I think I want to be confident and humble about those judgements—I like what I like, but it's OK if you don't. And I like 'Amelie.'

I'm moved to this statement not just because of The Guardian's 'Amelie' essay, but also because of Drew McWeeney's piece at HitFix about watching 'Attack of the Clones' with his young son. I hate the 'Star Wars' prequels, but reading about McWeeney's son proved revelatory:
But amidst the fun, "Clones" introduces some darker notes regarding Anakin's fall, and I was surprised how much Toshi was invested in that particular story thread. Ever since The Moment in "Empire," he's been troubled by the idea of a good guy who becomes a bad guy, and he's watching Anakin closely. When Anakin found his mother just before she died and then went on his killing spree in the Tusken Raiders camp, Toshi actually stood up. He walked closer to the screen, upset, needing to see every detail of what was happening, and when the scene was over, he asked me to pause the movie.

"Daddy, those people took Anakin's mommy, right?"

"That's right."

"And they hurted her, right?"

"They did."

"So then he wanted to kill them all so they can't hurt anybody else, right?"

"Is that the right thing to do?"

"No." The way he said it, though, it was more a question than a statement. "But they shouldn't have killed his mommy."

He was still wrestling with it when Anakin confessed to Padme a few scenes later that he had killed all of the Tuskens, even the women and children. That made him ask me to pause again, and he was upset by what Anakin said. "Jedi are good guys, and they should do good things, and he killed little kids and mommies, and that's bad." We talked about the reasons why and he told me that he was sad for Anakin, but he was also mad at him. He's always thought of Anakin as a hero, and seeing him start his fall and giving in to anger and rage is upsetting him deeply.
This is, when you think about it, sophisticated stuff for a young child to be contemplating: Sometimes good people do bad things, and sometimes those bad things create consequences from which there are no escape.

I'm not an 'Attack of the Clones' fan. I doubt that I ever will be. But in somebody's life, that movie is doing the work of art: Moving a person to contemplate motives and existence beyond their own experience, and offering entertainment in the process. That is no small thing. Recognizing that tempers my own judgements: I don't like 'Attack of the Clones,' but it's OK if you do.

1 comment:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Posts like these are one of the many reasons I love you, Joel.

(And some of your readers may be highly amused to know that my word verification is "redst" -- three letters short of "red state"!)