No French film of this century is more beloved than Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. Or rather, no protagonist of a French film in this century is more beloved than Audrey Tautou’s eponymous Amélie. Hence, no doubt, why the movie is best known by that short version of its title rather than by the long version, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. Now, more than twenty years after the release of Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Jeunet has followed it up with La véritable histoire d’Amélie Poulain, which you can watch (with optional French or English subtitles) just above.
“After all this time,” Jeunet says in a brief introduction, “I felt the moment was right to tell you, at long last, the real story of Amélie Poulain.” She turns out, according to his voice-over narration that follows, not to be a simple Montmartre waitress who dedicates herself to surreptitiously enriching the lives of those around her.
In fact she works as a spy for the KGB, having first been recruited in childhood with the promise of candy bars. That may sound far-fetched, but Jeunet supports every detail of Amélie’s double life, and of the story of her re-entry into espionage after the fall of the Berlin Wall, using the very same scenes and involving the very same characters we remember from Amélie.
On one level, La véritable histoire d’Amélie Poulain testifies to the enduring playfulness that keeps Jeunet from taking his own work — even the work that became a global phenomenon — too seriously. (Indeed, that spirit is on display in the original movie’s exaggeration of whimsical-French-film tropes.) Much like the Hollywoodified Kubrick trailers we previously featured here on Open Culture, this new short also constitutes a demonstration of how the meaning and impact of cinema are created not by the images themselves, but rather by their context and juxtaposition. And so, with characteristic cleverness, Jeunet has reinvented Amélie as a Soviet agent by employing the principles of Soviet montage.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.