The Double Feature [Valentine’s Day Edition]: Amelié and He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not
Is Valentine’s Day a beautiful holiday brimming with love and chocolates, or is it an over-commercialized excuse to sell greeting cards? A day of hollow sentiment or a chance to set aside our cynicism and dare to be sincere?
The answers to those questions depend entirely on your perspective, and perspective happens to be the theme binding together our love-fueled Double Feature this month. Love, like Valentine’s Day, is an exercise in duality, and few film combos illustrate the sweet and sour sides of love quite as effectively as Amélie and He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not. In the “Ain’t love grand?” corner, we have the 2001 mega hit Amélie, a film brimming with positivity and romanticism. Then on the flipside, we have 2002’s He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not, Amélie‘s dark twin. Both films star Audrey Tautou, and they both ruminate on the nature of love, but they reach two very different conclusions on the subject.
Sincerity is a tricky sentiment to pull off, but Amélie does it with style. The film follows a lonely, imaginative young woman on her quest to bring happiness to other people’s lives– the concept is simple, the execution remarkable. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amélie is a feast for the eyes with its warm yellows and vibrant reds set against a backdrop of whimsical sets. Jeunet turns Paris into a lively, fairytale world brimming with untapped possibility that can only truly be seen by Amélie, and the character’s wide-eyed wonder at the world makes her a unique guide.
Having grown up alone, with only her parents for company, Amélie is disconnected and lonely, more accustomed to living within the imaginative worlds of her own making than in reality. It is through acts of kindness that Amélie slowly begins to learn how to connect. Bringing joy, even as she’s operating from afar as a benevolent trickster, gives Amélie a way to join humanity without truly immersing herself in it, but experiencing love vicariously can only take her so far.
As the film progresses, Amélie finds herself falling in love with a collector of abandoned passport photos named Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), despite knowing next to nothing about him. It is one of the rare love at first sight scenarios that is truly effective, and it works both because it makes sense for Amélie, who is most comfortable observing people from a distance, and because the film establishes that no desire is more pure than the desire to be loved. Amélie brings happiness to so many people that it would be cruel not to allow us to see her find happiness for herself. Luckily, Amélie is the opposite of cruel, and the film gives us, and the character, the happy ending that we crave.
Thanks to the film’s popularity and her own winning performance, Tautou’s name will forever be synonymous with the gentle-hearted Amélie. That doesn’t mean Tautou can only play sweet, lovelorn matchmakers though.
Shortly after Amélie became an international sensation, Tautou made He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not, another film about an isolated young woman who falls in love with a man she doesn’t really know. The only difference was He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not was set firmly in reality, and the young woman in question was revealed not to be a benevolent soul, but an agent of chaos for herself and all those who wandered into her path. Told first through the eyes of Angélique (Tautou), and then through the eyes of Loïc (Samuel Le Bihan), the unfortunate object of her affection, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not illustrates just how thin the line between love and obsession can be.
In both sections of the film, Tautou gives a subtly unsettling performance. We first see her as a young woman consumed by heartbreak when her lover refuses to leave his wife for her, only to have the veil pulled away in the film’s second half to reveal that her “lover” has no idea who she is. The film uses our Amélie baggage against us, playing up Angélique’s innocence then ripping it away to reveal a portrait of an unstable and dangerous woman buried beneath her sweet smile.
Outside of the obvious demonstration of Tautou’s impressive range as an actress, taken together Amélie and He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not show love at its most extreme.
Amélie is all about the positive powers of the emotion: its dizzying euphoria, redemptive qualities and ability to spark happiness in all those around us. He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not revels in the darker elements of love, particularly love that is not reciprocated. Both Amélie and Angélique engage with the world as outsiders, touching people’s lives without truly being a part of them. In one instance, this is a beautiful thing, in another…it’s a nightmare. Taken together, Tautou’s two characters handily demonstrate the Dobler/Dahmer Theory recently posited on CBS’s hit sitcom How I Met Mother, which states that “there is a fine line between love and insanity.” Watch them both pre-Valentine’s Day date, and they should help you keep things in perspective.
Whether you embrace Valentine’s Day in all of its lacy, saccharine glory or if you approach the holiday with a healthy dose of skepticism, Amélie and He Loves Me…He Loves Not have you covered. Let me know if you’ll be watching this month’s Double Feature in the comments!
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