Free Comparing Amelie and Happy Together Essay Sample
Search for Love in the City: Comparing Amelie and Happy Together
Auteur cinema often uses simple, character-centered stories to shed light on deeper problems and to establish parallels with grander themes. On the surface, both Wong Kar-Wais Happy Together and Jean-Pierre Jeunets Amelie are character-focused love stories which depict the complexities of human relationships. However, further analysis shows both deeper and broader meanings behind the films, reflecting the political climate of the time when they were made and directors agenda. Both films show little people trying to find themselves in the big cities. Although there are similarities in the way two films reflect on the problems of human communication self-identification and loneliness in the modern urban society, the difference between their usage of visual language and contrast between fiction and reality in two films should be analyzed. In this research, both films will be discussed, addressing their creation, their respective visual languages and narrative structures and how these films represent different approaches to depiction of human relationships in broader social and political context.
Two films under analysis Wong Kar-Wais Happy Together and Jean-Pierre Jeunets Amelie handle the issues of human communication through depiction of troubled love stories. Despite drastically different tone and feel (one is a light romantic comedy and the other is a depressing psychological drama), there are parallels which can be drawn between the films. Both films are created by directors known for their distinct visual style and experimental narrative. At the same time, they show different approaches to the above-mentioned subject; thus, the comparison of these films can provide a broader context for interpretation.
Amelie (2001) is the fourth film by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who was at the time of its production already a well-known auteur with an established visual style. Amelie became the directors trademark film seen by many as his best work. The film is often called a feel good movie, which served to remind people in France of good old times. Amelie is a fairy tale, which exists in its own reality. While the films world visually resembles Paris, the fictional city of the film has little resemblance to the real-life modern capital. Its a utopian idealistic Paris, as seen through nostalgic memories of childhood. This childish perspective is present throughout the whole film, from its infantile characters, to current game motifs.
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The plot of Amelie follows the life of the main character Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) as she finds her role in life, which is to be an invisible guardian angel for people who surround her. She begins to influence their lives in a positive way and punishing those whom she considers to be mean in a comedic manner. Amelie eventually meets and falls in love with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) who is as strange as she is. The film transforms into a love story, which is rather unconventional in a way it is told. The reason is that the plotline of how Amelie and Nino meet resembles a quest in a role-playing game, it comprises small adventures and discoveries the characters undergo. Despite its playful nature and strong comedic elements, at its core the film is an interesting character study of Amelie, who is trying to find her place in the world and learning to live for herself. While there are numerous interesting minor characters in the film, Amelie herself is the most fleshed-out of all of themes since even Nino is depicted rather superficially, mostly from Amelies perspective.
While being a simple romantic comedy on the surface, the film has several layers of interpretation. Firstly, Amelie is a story of two people struggling to create a relationship. Both heroes are outsiders, with a distinctive worldview. The meetings for them become an elaborate game because playing games is the way they communicate with the world. For Amelie and Nino, their relationship is a way of maturing and getting acquainted with the reality of the world. Another notable motif of the film is the juxtaposition of fiction and reality. While the film is an unrealistic, fairy-tale-like story, which has little to no roots in reality, there are often use dream sequences to create a notable contrast between the reality of the film and the way Amelie sees it. In fact, this can be illustrated by numerous scenes where Amelies consciousness speaks to her through TV, her perception of herself as a Zorro character, and the way she imagines her life with Nino that are presented in a characteristically stylized comic-book bubble. Moreover, even their relationship is shown with the language of cinema, namely with the visual language. The characters barely know each other, they speak just a few words in total to each other, and they communicate mostly non-verbally, with notes (simply like children), elaborate tricks and touches. Thereafter, even in the closing scene, the audience knows they are happy because they look happy. The researcher Michelle Scatton-Tessier emphasizes that despite the fact that on the surface the film is distant from the real-world problems, it is still well anchored in its socio-historical and cinematic period.
Souvenirs, games, disguises, imaginary friends and secret collections distract us from the background of deformation, malady and isolation haunting the film. Infantile actions become a valorized means of achieving immediate gratification. They provide a means of escape for the female protagonist (and for the viewer), allowing for a regression to a time before adult responsibilities and behaviors (Scatton-Tessier 198).
The important aspect of the film is not what the viewer can see in it, but what they cannot see since Jaunets utopia intentionally excludes real-life problems which currently bother French people. The films world is a fantasy, and it is not a secret. Thereafter, there is a fair amount of criticism towards Amelie for its superficial nature and its focus of small pleasures of life, as a way of escapism from the problems of real world. Such position directly contradicts the ideology of French new wave, which criticized the bourgeois society. However, the intention behind the film was not to provide a social critique and not to promote a right-wing utopia. Jeunet was creating an intentionally unrealistic fairy-tale world, despite that its purity may or may not shed some light on directors political views.
The running theme of the film is leaving the comfort zone, namely deciding to start a relationship, making small changes in life, leaving home to see the world, and making positive change. At the same time, the film has an inner contradiction between the desire for change and glorification of good old days. In the depiction of the romantic plotline, Jeunet focuses on its early stages. In the world of his film, difficulties and consequences of actions do not exist. Thus, it follows the they lived happily route, which most fairy tales do.
Happy Together is written and directed by an acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai. This film was the first one which brought the director world recognition and a number of awards. The film has all of Wongs signature features; while visually stylized, it has a simple story with a rather loose and uneventful plotline. The film focuses on the emotional states of its protagonists, describing troubled and sometimes abusive love relationship. Wong uses his regular photographer (Kristopher Doyle) and set designer (William Chang) to create a moody look of the film. The film also stars Wongs regular collaborator Tony Leung, as one of the protagonists named Yiu-Fai. Interestingly, one of the major influences of Wongs style is the French New Wave, which Amelie, as a highly stylized and cinematic film, opposes both in its ideology and execution. In Happy Together, with its chaotic editing, uses of handheld camera and the narrative which defies typical three-act structure, the influence of La Nouvelle Vague is apparent.
The plot of the film focuses on the complex romance between two men, namely Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing, which can be described as unstable. They constantly part and are reconciled, and it seems that despite their relationships being destructive for them, they are emotionally codependent. The film follows their lives during a short period when they are living in Argentina, far from home (the motif of nostalgia for home is present throughout the film). Most of the story is shown from Yiu-Fais perspective, sometimes with the usage of his narration over the action, which is often the only way to follow the story. There is little romanticism in the scenes between two lovers, as the viewer witnesses their story in the time of troubles. However, during the rare moments of emotional intimacy, it is understood that there is a close bond between them. The relationships between Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing are grounded in reality as evident in the scenes where Yiu-Fai takes care of Po-Wing when his hands are broken and then refuses to sleep with him. Therefore, the scene where Po-Wing tries to push their beds together and Yiu-Fai refuses is rather telling that this is not the best time for these characters. At the same time, as mentioned above, they are emotionally interdependent, as proved by the fact that Yiu-Fai hides Po-Wings passport to prevent him from seeing other people. By the end of the film, Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing end their relationship, and Yiu-Fai tries to connect with another man, returns home, and travels to a waterfall he and Po-Wing dreamt to visit. At the same time, Po-Wing remains in his apartment, pondering about his lost love, holding a lamp showing a couple at the waterfall. It is uncertain whether they will ever meet again; however, the bond between characters remains strong.
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As the film was released months before Honk Kong was reunited with mainland China, researchers draw obvious parallels between two parts of the country and two protagonists of the film. The researcher Jeremy Tambling summarizes it:
One view of Happy Together-as allegory ought to be mentioned straight away: that the two lovers stand for China and for Hong Kong, with Taiwan an important other, third presence. The film allegorizes the relationship together of two figures who cannot be happy together, even though they try to start over again (Tamblin 12-13).
This assumption, though not unearned, somewhat lessens other angles from which the film could be addressed, as it is at its core not simply a political allegory but a deep character study. Tambling explains that such one-sided interpretation of the film diminishes its other layers, and he writes that such view hardly takes the film seriously, or the situation of China and Hong Kong (13). According to Tambling, such interpretation disregards the improvisation in performances and in editing, which is heavily present in the film. Another questionable interpretation of the film is focusing on the homosexuality of the protagonists, which was denounced by the director himself, who stated that the film is about human relations, human communication and the means of maintaining it (as qtd. in Siegel 279). As in Amelie, the city plays an important role in the film; however, it is not a concrete city like Jeunets idealistic Paris and even not Buenos Aires, where the film takes place. The focus is on the inner city, with its streets, shops, bars and cafes. Evidently, Hong-Kong is presented through Buenos Aires.
Amelie and Happy Together have some similarities. Firstly, both films are focused on the romantic relationships between main characters, which are unusual and somewhat troubled as well as depict characters, who cannot seem to find their place in the world, and are desperately seeking for someone with whom to connect. Moreover, two films address the problem of human communication and loneliness, caused by inability to establish or contain such communication. Most of the characters in Amelie, including two leads, struggle from some level loneliness: Amelies father (Rufus) refuses to contact the outside world after the death of his wife; Amelies neighbor Yolande (Madeleine Wallace) is mourning the death of unfaithful husband; Nino is obsessed of solving a mystery of a man on the torn photos, as if this can somehow fix his own life, and so on. Amelies personal struggle with loneliness pushes her to become a positive force in the lives of other people. Michelle Scatton-Tessir writes:
She fixes small problems. She gives us a quick fix, repairs what (we did or did not know) was broken and is an immediate remedy to every mans daily life. Amelie, the domestic good fairy, grows out of the daily loneliness that she attempts to efface (201).
However, while Amelie tries to solve others problems, by becoming a sort of a guardian angel, she finds herself unable to fight her own loneliness. Even when she meets her soul mate Nino, it takes time and effort for them to communicate, at first Amelie is even unable to talk to him, which highlights the theme of difficulties of communication. Jeunet finishes the film on an optimistic note, providing her main characters with a resolution. Amelie is a fairy tale and must have a happy ending. Jeunet presents Amelie and Nino with a direction to find happiness with someone similarly strange.
Happy Together shows a darker, more pessimistic and, at the same time, more realistic story. Its two main characters try to maintain their collapsing relationships. The leave Hong-Kong for Argentina, as if the change of place can cure their detachment. However, small life concerns, misunderstandings and routine push them away. Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing remain lonely when they are together and then they are apart. The director explores the problem of loneliness in a company, which becomes important in a globalist society. The narrative of Happy Together is more episodic and abrupt, the characters do not undergo any major changes, and no conflict is resolved. Unlike Amelie, which has a traditional happy ending Happy Together has a more grounded and ambiguous finale. Wong leaves his heroes stranded in the uncertainty of the future with a possibility of choice.
In their visuals, both films utilize experimental techniques. The look of Amelie is defined by the directors use oversaturated colors (mostly orange, red and green) Colors in Amelie serve to highlight the happy days and the idealistic atmosphere. Amelie contains numerous flashbacks, uses modified stock footage and surreal dream sequences (Amelie melting, lamps and photos speaking) and constant breaking of the fourth wall. These cinematic techniques create a sense of detachment from reality, which is especially strong in the film, which is an intentional directors choice. Here lies the main difference between two films, as Ameli never feels like the situations happen in real world. Paris, as depicted by Jaunet, is an idealistic place, a reflection of childs memories, in which poverty, prejudice, immigration and other real world problems are non-existent. In this idealistic Paris, a beggar can take a day off, a cafe waitress is a prestigious profession and the outside world exists only through news on TV. Still, even in this imaginary city the characters face real loneliness and detachment.
Happy Together, despite its more realistic look, also has scenes in which experimental cinematic techniques are utilized. Wong also uses while oversaturated colors in the scenes taking place in the dirty room where lovers in Happy Together live, which creates a sense of irony. Happy Together has black-and-white sequences with a distinct noir feel in the early scenes of the film, and the whole plot is sometimes hard to follow as scenes sometimes end abruptly, with only by Yiu-Fais inner monologues helping to follow the events. While Happy Together is a more realistic and less stylized film, it also has a surreal sequence, in which Yiu-Fai imagines his home city turned upside down (as it is situated on the opposite side of the globe). In this scene the picture is flipped upside-down, as it shows the flow of life in the city. The scene creates visual parallel between two cities, the two cities are alike in the eyes of Yiu-Fai, as he wherever they go, the still are fixated on their personal problems. Happy Together does not linger on social issues and political context, they are hinted at in the background (in the news on TV in the background). The director shows the lives of the main characters without unnecessary embellishment, the camera work is rawer, and there are a lot of handheld shots. Happy Together is influenced by the cinema of French New Wave, with its focus on mundane dialogue, improvisation and chaotic camera-work. Overall, the experiments with cinematic techniques are present in both films, though they are serving different purposes, namely creating a cinematic fairy-tale feel in Amelie and depicting a chaotic nature of failed communication between people in modern urban habitat in Happy Together.
Amelie and Happy Together are films that are very characteristic of both of their creators filmographies and the times when they were made. Jean-Pierre Jeunet created a fictional idealistic city where his characters tried to find themselves by fleeing from reality in a time, where people in France were struggling from real problems brought by globalization and were eager to escape from them. Thus, Amelie became an escapist fantasy that ironically shed light on the dangers of escapism. In Happy Together,Wong Kar-Way depicted a feeling of uncertainty which people in Hong-Kong had in the time of reunion with the mainland China, at the same time managing to address other issues, from homosexuality to the troubles of people to communicate with each other and to maintain this communication. However, both films show strong interconnection between personal and public, between the inner world of the characters and the reality in which they live. Bothe films have a strong presence of personified city and the way the main characters interact with it. For further research, it would be interesting to follow the themes established in these films and how they are presented in other works of these directors. For example, one may explore the fairy tale realm and its opposition to the real world in the films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet or socio-political parallels between human relations and the Hong-Kong history in the films by Wong Kar-Way.