Let’s Talk About Amélie

In 1999, a doozy of a movie called Passport To Paris starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen was released (err, on straight-to-VHS) and it instantly became my favorite movie, ever. The movie follows the same formula as most Olsen Twins movies did – the twins leave their “boring” life and venture off to another country where they get into shenanigans and meet cute boys who ultimately help them solve a crime. You know, the typical teenage girl stuff. I remember renting the movie from Blockbuster so many times that it was a better investment  for my mom to just purchase the VHS for me.

The movie is about Melanie and Allyson Porter, two twins in junior high who are devasted when they learn they have to miss their Spring Break school dance to go to France to visit their grandfather, an ambassador to the city of Paris. Upon arrival, they get upset when they discover their grandpa is strict, so they run off exploring the city of Paris with two cute French boys, Jean and Michel. They ride Vespa’s, eat calamari, and get into a baguette-sword fight in front of the Eiffel Tower. The typical tourist stuff.

I would watch the movie every day after school, drooling over Jean and wishing I had the same wardrobe as the twins. I idolized them as a child, and more specifically wanted to visit all the same places that they did. But Passport to Paris was the ultimate – I became infatuated with the city of Paris, and as soon as I was given access to the Internet years later, did all my research on my future trip to Paris (being 12 years old, I had no actual plans to go to Paris).

In high school, I took French as my language of choice. When I was old enough to handle an oven in the kitchen, I began baking French madeleines and pain au chocolat. I studied maps of France, trying to find my way from the Louvre to Shakespeare and Company (it’s a fifteen-minute walk, in case you’re wondering).

And then when I was sixteen, I reached the pinnacle of my French obsession. I saw the 2001 film, Amélie. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve definitely heard of it, or seen a still from it, or know someone who loves it.

Amélie, (known in France as Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, or “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain”) tells the story of a young girl named Amélie Poulain who experiences a tragedy in her young life and is conditioned to a simple life of quietude. Her eccentric mother thought young Amélie had a heart condition as a child, so homeschooled her. To cope with her lonely life, Amélie used her imagination and mischievous personality to create fun in her life. After her mother tragically dies when Amélie is little, her father withdrew further and Amélie became independent.

A young Amélie Poulain.

She works at a small Parisian café as a waitress and lives alone with her cat. But on the day that Diana, Princess of Wales dies, Amelie discovers a small box in her apartment that belonged to a man decades before. She becomes determined to find the man and deliver the box to him, filled with little treasures from his childhood. This changes the course of Amélie’s life, as she begins filling her simple life with small gestures that have big effects for all the people around her. She simultaneously plays a game of cat-and-mouse with a man she loves, and runs around the streets of Paris mostly going unseen.

It’s hard to describe exactly what the movie is about – if I were to put it simply, it’s about “a girl in Paris.” The film is so beautifully shot, and the character of Amélie was exactly who I wanted to be growing up – strong-willed, independent, and a little mischievous.

Amélie looks over the city of Paris.

I absorbed this movie. I watched it over and over, but making time out of my schedule to invest everything I could into this movie. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I laid in bed late at night with the covers over my head, headphones in, taking in every second of movie that I could. The movie served as a beacon of hope for a younger me, showing me a city that I had always loved, but never actually been to.

In an article for The Guardian, writer Phil Hoad explains exactly why Amélie has had the lingering popularity it’s had in the almost twenty years since it’s release. The film has developed a cult-following (a cult I am gladly a member of). He explains that despite the “subtitle-phobic American market” (a topic I have written about which you can read here), Amélie transcends language barriers because of its charm. According to Hoad, the film was “at heart an old-school export picture – packing up iconic French culture (the Sacré-Coeur, Renoir, bistros, crème brûlée) as dutifully as an open-top bus tour.” If I really think about it, Amélie was my introduction to, and perhaps my reason for loving foreign movies.

A few years later I was talking to a friend who had gone to Paris over Christmas break, expressing my excitement for her (and hiding my own jealousy). She started talking about how she thought she has Paris Syndrome, and I thought she was referring to how much she missed the city. I was surprised when she said that she was a bit disappointed in her visit. Come to find out, Paris Syndrome is a very real thing.

Paris Syndrome is a psychological condition experienced almost exclusively by Japanese tourists who are disappointed when the city of Paris does not live up to their expectations. The condition can be referred to as an extreme case of culture shock, and has been known to cause symptoms like acute delusional state, hallucinations, anxiety, dizziness, and sweating.

French psychiatric journal Nervure explains that Paris Syndrome is a result of the extreme disappointment that tourists can experience when the exceedingly-high expectations of Paris with is fashion, romance, and food do not live up to the hype. More often than not, tourists are met with rude customer service and confusing public transport. Studies and medical journals have linked Paris Syndrome to Japanese tourists because of their known infatuation for Paris, but I think this probably goes beyond just Japanese tourists.

The conversation with my friend after returning home from her trip made me think about our perceptions of foreign places and how we create expectations that only live up in the movies. And though the conversation left me feeling down, Paris is still on the top of my “places to visit” list.

I recently re-watched Amélie, and found that it still holds up for me, giving me that same feeling it did upon my first viewing – it made me excited about, well, life.

Do I expect my first trip to Paris to be like the movies? I guess not. But as the saying goes, Mary-Kate, Ashley, Amélie and I will “always have Paris.”

Have you ever experienced “Paris Syndrome” in your real life? Did you go somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit and was disappointed that it didn’t live up to the hype? Let me know in the comments below:

And check out some of my other favorite movies that take place in the City of Love:

Zazie Dans le Metro (1960)

La vie d’Adele (2013)

 À bout de souffle (1960)

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Border (2018): This Isn’t A Disney Fairytale

Photo Source: IndieWire.com

I first heard about director Ali Abbasi’s Border after watching the 2019 Academy Awards in which the film was nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. This category is always amongst my favorites and what I believe is one of the most overlooked categories at the Oscars, as CGI and visual effects begin to take over the landscape of the art. Though Border did lose out to Vice (featuring Christian Bale as Dick Cheney), the conversation surrounding the film seemed to gain momentum post-release – and rightfully so.

Border is a Swedish fantasy film directed and written by Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi, featuring a screenplay by Isabella Eklof and John Ajvide Lindqvist. The movie won the Un Certain Regard (a very prestigious award) at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and was chosen as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Film at the 2019 Oscars (though it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Film, it was nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling). 

Border: Synopsis *SPOILERS*

The movie’s main character, Tina, is a customs officer for a Swedish border office where she utilizes her unusual ability to sniff out guilt and shame to detect contraband. Her appearance is Neanderthal-like having facial deformities, and as a result, she lives a rather isolated and lonely life.

Protagonist Tina portrayed by Eva Melander.

One day while working at the border, she stops a man and finds a memory card in his phone full of child pornography. When her boss asks her how she was able to find it, she reveals her unusual talent, where he thereafter asks her to investigate who filmed the explicit footage.

The next day, Tina is taken back by a man walking through customs who has the same facial deformities as her. She asks to search his bag, and finds that the bag is filled with maggots and a strange device, that he says is a “larvae hatcher”. Though Tina lets him through, he comes back to customs to voluntarily be searched. Upon being taken into an interrogation room, Tina finds out that his name is Vore, and he has female genitalia and a large scar on his tailbone. She also overhears that he is staying at a nearby hostel.

Tina (Melander) and Vore (Milonoff) meeting for the first time.

We then see Tina visiting her father, who does not have the same facial deformities that she has. She is thinking about how Vore has a large scar on his tailbone and decides to ask her father how she got the scar on her face. He tells her that she fell on something when she was a child. 

Tina makes a visit to her father (Ljuggren) who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

She then decides to visit Vore at the hostel, where she finds him eating maggots off a nearby tree. He offers her a maggot and she asks him if he would like to stay with her at her home. Tina brings him over to stay in her guest house, and he tries to kiss her. Roland, Tina’s roommate, becomes suspicious of Vore.

Later on, we see Tina using her special abilities to sniff out an apartment where the pedophiles with the child pornography live. Inside, they find disturbing footage of an infant being sexually assaulted. The police arrest the people inside the apartment but are unable to find the person in the video assaulting children.

Later on, Vore joins Tina in her house during a thunderstorm that has them both terrified. Huddled underneath a table, the two finally kiss. After the storm, the two of them go outside where Tina reveals that she has a chromosome deformity that makes it impossible for her to have children and difficult to have sex. Vore tells her that she is wrong, and there is nothing wrong with her. The two have sex, and Tina finds that she grows a penis during intercourse. Vore tells her that she is actually a troll, like him.

When Vore reveals to Tina who she really is, she begins to embrace her new identity.

Tina is taken by what Vore tells her, and she begins to embrace her new identity as a troll. Her newfound confidence has her finally tell roommate, Roland, she wants him to move out of the house.

We then see Tina discover that Vore has taped his refrigerator shut, and when she gets it open she finds a cardboard box with a strange-looking baby inside. Vore explains to her that the baby is a “Hiisi” (of Finnick folklore) or a goblin-like embryo that will die soon. Vore is lying to Tina and really intends to use the embryo as a replacement for a real human infant.

We then see Vore chase down and murder one of the pedophile suspects that is being transferred to another prison. Tina asks why he murdered the man, and Vore explains that he is the one that has been supplying the babies for the child pornography Tina had discovered, and this is Vore’s way of getting revenge on the human species for how they treated trolls in the 1970s. Tina is upset and ashamed of learning this.

The next day, Tina discovers that her neighbors have called an ambulance because something horrible has happened to their baby. Tina knows that it was Vore who switched out their infant for the troll embryo. When Tina goes to confront Vore, she finds that he and all his belongings are gone. She finds a note from Vore telling her to meet him at the ferry. She goes to meet him but explains that she does not approve of Vore’s actions, and just because she is a troll doesn’t mean she can’t experience compassion. Tina signals to some nearby police officers to arrest Vore for his actions, but he jumps overboard.

Tina does not approve of Vore’s ideologies surrounding humans. But do humans approve of her?

Later on, Tina is visited by her father who finally confesses to her that she was a troll who was experimented on as an infant until he adopted her after her parents died when she was young.

What seems to be a few months later, Tina gets a package at her doorstep and when she opens it, she finds a troll baby and a postcard from a troll community in Finland.

BACKGROUND:

  • The film is based on a short story written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, writer of the critically acclaimed Let the Right One In.

MY THOUGHTS:

Growing up, did you ever hear about how Walt Disney’s classic animated fairytales were actually a lot more grim than how the cartoons portrayed them? Like how in the original version, Cinderella actually kills her stepmother, or in the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White is punished by the Evil Queen for running away and is made to dance until she falls over dead, or how in Han Christian Andersen’s original Little Mermaid, the prince marries another woman and the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea where her body dissolves into sea foam?

My viewing of Border made me think of what I’ve begun calling the “adult fairytale”. Border left me feeling like if Disney were to adapt this film with a happy ending 100 years from now, the main character Tina would be taking pictures with kids at Disneyland.

Border is a modern-day fairytale.

Now it may sound like I didn’t like this movie but I want to clarify – I loved this film.

And though this is the story of the Ugly Duckling mixed in with actual trolls and a sex trafficking ring, the most interesting part of this film is Tina, brilliantly portrayed by actress Eva Melander.

The story is told through the eyes of Tina, a woman conditioned to stares and disgusted looks from everyone she’s ever met because of her appearance. This has pushed her to a life of isolation, living in the woods with a roommate who only uses her and to lead a routine life never expecting anything good from anyone. When she is finally acknowledged at work for her strange abilities to smell guilt, shame or fear, it is never questioned, but always utilized.

Tina finds solace in quietude.

When she comes across Vore, she is smitten with him, but ashamed of herself for being so taken by him. However, it’s easy to see why – he looks like her, but is confident and lives a free life. He’s vulgar, but she is intrigued. For the first time, she sees someone like herself but is ashamed that she is attracted to him. However, he is the first person to ever reassure her that despite social constructs, she is perfect as she is. She wants love, intimacy, and someone to tell her father about on their visits before his memory fades away for good, and Vore is an answer to her prayers.

Despite the plot that features graphic imagery, what stuck with me the most is the subtle moments we see of Tina’s everyday life. Her in the grocery store filling her cart while receiving glaring looks from other patrons, her swimming alone in the lake by her house, mushroom picking alone smelling the vegetation, her supernatural connection with wildlife all around her house. We see that yes, she is a troll, but all people – all living things – crave connection, love, intimacy.

Tina after discovering the troll embryo in her fridge, as she begins to question Vore’s intentions.

I couldn’t help but put myself in Tina’s shoes throughout the film, my eyes brimming with tears. To look so different than everyone else, have strange abilities and not know why, being told you could never have children, let alone normal intimacy with another person. It makes the subtle moments of Tina’s aloneness and quietude all the more engaging.

And at the end, we see, as does “ugly duckling” Tina, that though she is not human it doesn’t mean she would turn against humans. Her loneliness has gained her a strong sense of self, and though the temptation of a man who she finally connects with and looks like is there, she cannot defend bad people doing bad things, regardless of what has been done to her in the past.

Border is a movie I will be thinking about for a long time. Both visually stunning and brilliantly acted, I cannot recommend this movie enough. Tina is a character that I feel both close to and also see myself as in some ashamed ways, and I wish I could tell her that myself.

My star rating: ★★★★☆

Have you seen Border? Will you be adding it to your watchlist? Let me know in the comments below!

I’m always looking for foreign movie recommendations, so be sure to follow me and get in touch:

Instagram: @Farawayfilms

Twitter: @Farawayfilms

Border is available for streaming on Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.

Watch the trailer for Border (2018):

Don’t Be Lazy – Reading Subtitles Isn’t That Hard

Every once and a while my sister get together on the weekend for a movie marathon. Our usual go-to is the extended version of Lord of the Rings trilogy (by Sunday night we look like Gollum himself), but recently we’ve been trying to watch films that we haven’t seen before. During our most recent marathon, I suggested we watch Roma, the Netflix film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars ceremony.

The film is about a pair of house workers named Cleo and Sofia who take care of their children during the 1970s in Mexico. The family drama unfolds as Cleo finds out she is pregnant and the family gets away for a much-needed vacation.

Taking place in Mexico City, the film is in Spanish and has subtitles. While I attempted Spanish in high school and can still successfully ask someone where the bathroom is (¿Dónde está el baño?), I can definitely not speak Spanish fluently. Alas, I need subtitles.

Ah, yes. Good ole subtitles. Helpful for most, pain for others. When I suggested Roma and told my sister it was in Spanish, she said maybe we should just opt for Dumb and Dumber (for the umpteenth time). She was getting tired and didn’t feel like straining her eyes by reading subtitles. I was a bit taken back, and maybe even a little offended.

Now I use subtitles for everything I watch – foreign films, domestic films, blockbuster films, and even television shows. Films I’ve seen hundreds of times, and films I’ve never seen before. It’s a habit I formed after a friend of mine with hearing issues in her right ear said that she always needed them on. I realized from my film viewings with her that subtitles were not only not difficult to use, they were necessary for someone with a hearing disability, and also helped me to better understand the story I was watching.

One of the most common arguments I often hear from people I talk with regarding foreign films specifically is that they don’t like subtitles. They’re distracting, they’re a strain on the eye, they’re tiring to read. And when I was younger, I felt the same way.

According to Anthony Kaufman at Indie Wire, the U.S. box office for the top five foreign-language films has declined by 61% since 2007. While some more popular foreign films with buzz during awards season tend to get an American theatrical release like Pan’s Labrinyth (2006) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), the number of foreign-language films doesn’t come close to touching domestic releases.

In 2016, Anne Thompson at Indie Wire found that white audiences are declining at the movies, while ethnic and non-English speaking audiences grew that year. Thompson also notes that women and ethnic audiences built the year’s biggest blockbusters during 2016, too.

Now funny enough, after Roma swept the Oscars this year and was branded the best film of 2018, a man by the name of Steven Spielberg (ever heard of him?) declared that since Roma was a film released on a streaming platform (Netflix), it should be categorized as a made-for-television film, not making it eligible for awards. Surprising? Not necessarily, but definitely disheartening. Movies like Roma, as beautiful as they are, are non-English language films, so more often than not, they don’t get the chance for a theatrical release. My opinion? All because of the stinkin’ subtitles.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Kristen, relax. Spielberg didn’t say that about Roma because it’s foreign! He said that because it’s a movie released on Netflix.”

But here’s my argument to that: Why was it released on a streaming platform? Perhaps director Alfonso Cuaron couldn’t get the funding from big domestic studios because it was a film shot in Spanish. Let’s face it – Spielberg didn’t like that a successful foreign film did so well at the Oscars – his territory.

So here is my final cut: Subtitles are not hard to use. Actually, I’d say they should be necessary for all films in theaters. Subtitles aren’t just for understanding another language – they’re essential for those with a hearing disability perhaps those who struggle with paying attention to a film. Spielberg’s words seem to further the notion that foreign films should show in domestic theaters. To that, I say: Stop being lazy. Subtitles aren’t hard to read, and they help us to understand some really beautiful stories. Turn on the closed captions and let’s get watching!

The 4 Best Streaming Services for Foreign Cinema Online

One of the biggest arguments for not watching foreign movies is accessibility to foreign movies either online or in theaters – not having somewhere to watch the movies we want to. Luckily, we now more than ever have tons of resources to access foreign cinema (more so online). I’ve compiled a list of the four best online streaming services that offer a wide variety of foreign films that you can not only watch online but can watch from anywhere – your smartphone, laptop, television, etc. So hurry up and pick one, and let’s get watching!

  1. Prime Video ($12.99/month)

So thirteen dollars a month seems steep just to watch some movies online. However, Prime Video is a great option, because it comes with your Amazon Prime account! Free two-day shipping on that new pair of headphones and a 5-pound bag of gummy bears you ordered and getting to watch a new movie? That’s the stuff dreams are made of.

My picks for foreign movies on Prime Video: Alamar (2008) and The Human Resources Manager (2010).

Alamar, 2008
  • Netflix ($8.99/month)

Okay, so this one is obvious, I know. But chances are, you already have a Netflix account, and that’s a great place to start! If you’re like me, your Netflix account is used primarily for binge-watching Stranger Things and having The Office on as background noise while making dinner and doing homework. HOWEVER, Netflix, unbeknownst to most of us, is a great place to catch the more popular (and let’s face it, Oscar-bait) foreign movies of recent years. Netflix’s current catalog features some great foreign films like the Oscar-winning movie Roma (2018) and winner of the 2013 Palme d’Or (one of the most prestigious awards in all of film), Blue is the Warmest Color (2013).

And here’s a tip: Search “foreign” or “international” in Netflix’s search bar, and it’ll immediately show you all related movies. It’s as easy as that.

Roma, 2018
  • Snag Films (Free)

I know what you’re thinking – “Free? There’s no way. Nothing in this world is free!”

Yeah, nothing except Snag Films! Snag is an online streaming website that allows you to watch foreign movies and television episodes online for completely free. Their mission? To get more people to open their minds to more stories. You know that feeling on Christmas morning just before you start opening presents and can’t decide which one to start with? Yeah, Snag is kinda like that. Snag’s catalog features more than 2,000 movies and television shows, so there’s no more “There’s nothing to watch!” ever again.

My recommendations: Una Semana Solos (2007) and Bellissima (1951)

Bellissima, 1951
  • Kanopy (Free)

Never heard of Kanopy before? Yeah, neither had I, until a dear and wonderful friend suggested I try Kanopy when I had mentioned that I had been locked out of my Hulu account after my sister (who, umm… pays for it) changed the password. Ha!

I’m now convinced Kanopy is the world’s best kept online secret. It’s completely free, and all you need is either a library card from your local library or if you’re a college student, your school’s name. Just enter your information and WHAM! You’ve got, essentially, a free Netflix account. Kanopy’s catalog seems endless, and not only are their new releases, but they’re also movies you want to watch. No more adding movies to your watchlist and never, you know, watching them. Yeah, you’re welcome.

My recommendations: 3 Faces (2018) and Our Beloved Month of August (2008)

Our Beloved Month of August, 2008

And there you go! My top four picks for streaming foreign movies online. Not only are these services affordable and convenient for on-the-go, but they offer great selections of foreign films you never got to see in theaters because your theater didn’t screen them, or you never heard of them, or you’re just getting into films. So grab your laptop/smartphone/television remote, relax, and let’s watch!