Eleanor Rigby  picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been , lives in a dream,

waits at the window wearing the face that she’s kept in a jar by the door.  What is it for?  

 

Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear; no one comes near. 

 Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there.  What does he care?

 

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came.

Father Mackenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.  No one was saved.

 

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people where do they all belong?

 

  

She’s a strange girl; pretty in a child like way.  She dresses in a frock and big boots, she collects smooth pebbles that she skims on canals, works in a cafe in Montmartre and lives by herself in an apartment block with other lonely people, Raymond, an artist with brittle bones, who constantly retouches his copy of Renoir’s ‘Le dejeuner des canotieres’, Madeleine,  the concierge abandoned by her husband who escaped with his mistress to South America, the greengrocer, Collignon, who bullies his assistant, and the stewardess who is rarely there but leaves her cat for Amelie to care for.  

 Amelie is quiet and introspective; she keeps herself to herself.  She lives in her own world.  Her mother, who was always afraid of what might happen,  was killed upon emerging from Notre Dame by a Quebecois, who committed  suicide by leaping off the tower.   Her father, a surgeon, cold and clinical, builds a shrine in the garden topped by the garden gnome her mother hated.  He decided many years ago that Amelie had a heart complaint because her heart raced whenever he listened to it through his stethoscope.  She didn’t.  It was just that she craved her father’s affection and these weekly examinations were the only contact she had with him.  Deprived of emotional contact all her life,  Amelie grew up wary of society.

Her life changed on the 29th August 1997.  The radio was on when the news  broke of Princess Diana’s tragic death in the tunnel by the Seine.   Amelie was in the bathroom.  The top fell off the perfume bottle she was holding, rolled across the floor and dislodged a tile at the bottom of the wall.  Amelie knelt down, felt in the gap behind the tile and pulled out a rusty tin containing childhood treasures; the photograph of a footballer, a model of the winner of the Tour de France, a toy racing car.  Amelie recognised the emotional significance of her discovery and was determined to find the owner and return his memories, but she can’t reveal herself.   So she concocts the elaborate device of ringing the phone booth he is passing so that he finds the box she has left there for him.  This instigates her mission in life, to help others cope with their loneliness by a clandestine series of good deeds,  each conducted indirectly with quirky imagination and providing her with a  secret social connection.       

She wants her father to get out more.  So she steals the garden gnome and gives it to the stewardess, who photographs it at all the tourist venues and sends the polaroids to her father’s address.   It works.  Her father decides to travel.  There is a news item of the discovery of objects that survived an air crash on Mont Blanc.  Using words and phrases photocopied from his old love letters, she creates a last letter to Madeleine expressing his sincere and undying affection.   She engenders a passion between one of the cafe’s regulars, an oddball who records the comings and goings on his dictaphone and Georgette,  the cigarette vendor.  And she destabilises the bullying greengrocer by sabotage and practical jokes so that he begins to doubt his own sanity and his assistant becomes more confident.   

But she discovers a kindred spirit poking around under a passport photo booth at Le Gare de l’Est.  There is eye contact, a recognition, but both are so wary.  She follows him.  In trying to discover the identity of the mystery man who repeatedly leaves his photos in the rubbish bin, he drops his bag and she finds the album he has created of scraps of photos from the booth.  She finds that he works in a porn shop during the day and on the ghost train at the funfair in the evenings.  His name is Nino. She stalks him and returns his book by luring him to a viewpoint telescope, which reveals her holding up his album and placing it in the bag on his bike.  Now it is her turn to be stalked.  He finds where she works and where she lives and after numerous escapes and evasions, and assisted by Raymond’s insight, who has recognised Amelie in the girl drinking water at the centre of his painting, they find the love they have both craved all their lives.           

From a social perspective, loneliness is the most common ailment of our time.   Between 35 and 40% of adults in the UK and probably more in the USA are living alone with just the television and the computer for company.    With little opportunity to make meaningful contact with other people,  except perhaps through the dubious media of email and text messaging,  people find it difficult to work through their fears and despair and many develop depression and a variety of physical symptoms.  And, like Amelie, too many children are deprived of emotional contact and numbed by television and gameboy, so that they lose the confidence to interact with anything resembling community even if it were there.  This is no training for life.  Like other social species, human beings all too readily succumb to isolation and become ill.

Amelie craves love; that complete security that comes from feeling really understood and cared for, but how can she find this when she is so nervous of people?   She is too scared to live and will only find the soul mate she is searching for in somebody with similar life experience; otherwise there is always the risk that her naivety will be exploited.  But their route to bliss is, like love making in porcupines,  going to be extremely difficult with so many mistakes, evasions and misunderstandings and so much pain.   One false step and communication will be severed and their dreams destroyed.   But this is make believe, a film, it has to leave us with hope and they have help from a guardian angel with brittle bones.   

 Amelie or ‘Le Fabuleux Destin de Amelie Poulain’  is a bitter sweet comedy on loneliness directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet in 2001 with Audrey Tautou playing the leading role to shy perfection.  All the nuances of loneliness, shyness, fear, suspicion, oddness and paranoia,  are so well observed by Jeunet.  There’s a dream-like quality in French film, that encourages  quiet reflection on human relationships.  

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