Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Amelie in increasingly shorter chunks


My online fantasy baseball draft was yesterday at 4 a.m.

Yesterday being a Monday.

Strange time for a fantasy baseball draft? Ah, but it was 1 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday in the U.S. And much as I may try, I'm not going to convince a U.S.-based fantasy baseball league to make its draft at a time more convenient for a guy living in Australia, even if the first two games of the season are being played by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks just north of here in Sydney two weekends from now.

Actually, the timing was kind of perfectly convenient. In the middle of the night, there was no one whose needs I had to worry about, no favors I had to beg in order to draft in peace. My two-month-old could have woken up, of course -- probably would wake up, in fact -- but my wife agreed to do the diaper-changing in addition to the feeding that usually comes in the 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. range. As it happened, he slept through until 5 for the first time ever.

In the past, my draft time has been a major inconvenience. It has tended to be held on a Thursday night, and has taken up some prime afternoon/early evening hours when my being a husband and/or a dad was in high demand. Last year caused a particular hardship for my wife and son.

So middle of the night is pretty much perfect.

Except for the whole getting to sleep part.

I was planning to wake up at 2:45, as decisions would have to be finalized by 3 a.m. on which players I was going to keep from my previous year's team. They were already pretty much finalized, but breaking news during actual daytime hours in the U.S. could have theoretically changed my plans. An injury or something, for example. That meant first attempting to get down for the night at around 9:45.

I was close -- really close -- at times to falling asleep between 9:45 and 10:45. But the excitement always got the better of me. After all, draft day is my favorite day of the year.

The next hour contained a couple other fruitless attempts to make my environment more sleepy, including getting the fan from the garage and blowing it on me.

By midnight, though, I was watching Amelie.

Perhaps a strange choice to dissipate excitement over an imaginary sporting activity, but its proximity to the front of my Netflix queue reminded me how long I've been meaning to see this movie for a second time, and how direly I needed it.

You see, I was on a film podcast a couple years ago that was affiliated with Flickchart, and depended on a number of discussions of which film was better than which. The first random matchup we were given was Amelie vs. Finding Nemo. The host chose Amelie. I chose Finding Nemo.

At the time, I was only a little more than a year removed from my extraordinarily positive second viewing of Nemo, which saw me liking it perhaps even more than when I'd originally seen it. Meanwhile, my first and only viewing of Amelie was a full ten years earlier in 2001. I had loved it at the time, ranking it #3 for the year. But something unexpected happened in the ensuing decade, which is that Audrey Tatou continued to be cast in roles that were some variation on her iconic character from that film. Steadily burning out on the Tatou character, even while having stopped seeing the films in which the character appeared, also steadily eroded my feelings about Amelie, which I came to view retroactively as kind of twee.

The discussion we had on the podcast made me reconsider, and I ultimately decided to let the host's argument convince me, which allowed Amelie to earn the victory in the matchup. However, I was doing it sort of to ingratiate myself to him. I still didn't know how I truly feel about Amelie today, and it felt like an especially good time to reconsider it, seeing as how I just watched Finding Nemo about a month ago for the third time, and was a bit less charmed by it than I had been previously.

Was midnight on a Sunday night, when my being was entirely focused on the project of assembling an imaginary team of baseball players, the right time to see Amelie a second time? Probably not, but I did it anyway.  

Not without distraction, though. And here comes the "increasingly shorter chunks" of today's post title. I couldn't watch more than about five minutes of Amelie at a time without pausing and switching to another tab on my browser to check the baseball news. As the movie wore on, that became four-minute chunks, then three-minute chunks, then two-minute chunks. By the end, I was watching the movie only one word at a time.

Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration. But let's just say it took three hours to watch this two-hour movie. I suppose it was better to spend the time doing something, rather than just obsessively refreshing web pages.

In the first 20 minutes, I was awash again in the wonder and sheer joy of Amelie's Paris. The world of this movie is just so beautifully imagined, rendered and lived in. The film's point of view is also delightful, as well, with its quirky cutaways and photographs that come to life. I'm not only living in Amelie's Paris, I'm living in Amelie's brain. And it's a dynamically shot, meticulously composed wonderland.

In fact, I continue to love everything about this film with one big exception: her courtship with Mathieu Kassovitz' Nino.

It's just so convoluted. The more I watched it, the more I felt it resembling something like David Fincher's The Game, where all characters must behave in precisely a certain (unpredictable) way in order for it to come together as it does. The Game is a much bigger offender in that regard, and is also burdened by the fact that it's supposed to be "realistic." However, the end result was that I was starting to feel exhausted by the game these two were playing -- one more aggressively and one more passively, but playing nonetheless.

I guess I also have basic trouble with the notion that Nino keeps an album of ripped up photo booth portraits. Not because I don't believe that Nino would desire to make such an album, but that I don't believe it would be possible. It suggests that enough photo booth patrons would a) discard photos of themselves they had just paid for, b) discard them by ripping them into little shreds, and c) toss those ripped shreds in such a way that they would accumulate under the photo booth. Especially unconvincing is that he would have dozens of pictures of the photo booth technician. Although we see at the end that this technician does indeed rip his portraits into shreds, he throws them away in the trash can like a normal, law-abiding citizen.

Of course, once you are nit-picking details about Amelie you are really taking yourself out of its world, in which disbelief is one of the most fundamental suspensions.

So in the final analysis, Amelie is indeed an exquisite delight that probably labors on for about 20 minutes longer than it should, but is still pretty darn exquisite. And still maybe just a shade less exquisite than Finding Nemo.

And now I must go spend some more time basking in the glow of my newly assembled baseball team.

1 comment:

Travis McClain said...

Most of my immediate thoughts are probably already self-evident to you, so I'll spare us both. What I find more interesting is how you've dinged Amelie for Tatou's post-Amelie roles. That's an external factor, and not a particularly fair one to hold against the film.

To date, Amelie is the only film of hers I've seen, but I've had my own similar experiences with others. It's funny how something so original can come to feel somehow less special if we get the sense that the person or people who made it so special kept going back to that well, isn't it?

It can be an actor taking similar roles, a director returning to the same milieu, or even just a franchise that keeps releasing installments without really having a purpose except remaining visible (looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean). Whenever I become mindful that I'm holding something like that against a movie, I try to compartmentalize it and remove it from my assessment, but I know it's a consideration on some level a lot more than I think I realize.