For “Amelie,” Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s vision of an impossibly perfect Paris, the director didn’t enhance his beloved neighborhood of Montmartre so much as omit unnecessary details — leaving out cars, pollution and graffiti, and other blights of modern urban life. Instead, he and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designer Aline Bonetto chose to celebrate the small-town nature of Montmartre and their warm-hearted heroine.
“Montmartre is quite cinematic,” Delbonnel says. “It’s just like a village itself. If you remember when Amelie is walking with the blind man and describing the shops … it’s exactly the way it is in this street. The whole film is a vision of Paris, but Montmartre (really) looks like the way it is,” Delbonnel says of the neighborhood where most of the film takes place, and where Jeunet himself lives.
Delbonnel says there was little alteration of the film’s exterior locations, although in some cases, graffiti was painted over before shooting began, and in one case, removed digitally afterward.
The rich interiors, however, such as Amelie’s gorgeously appointed apartment of reds and golds, represented a real flight of fancy.
“The apartments don’t really look like that (inside). It’s closer to a vision of Marcel Carné — it’s a kind of poetry of the apartment,” Delbonnel says. These sets weren’t even built in France, but in Cologne, Germany, to qualify for the Euro Film program, he says.
Bonetto describes how she used the color scheme of each character’s living quarters to show their true nature. “We talked about the palette of each person and for Amelie, who was the heart of the story, I started thinking that her flat must be really warm, like a bird’s nest. Jean-Pierre and I decided to start with a really red color for Amelie, like the blood of her heart.”
For the quarrelsome grocer Collingon, “who is very sad and not very interesting,” Bonetto selected a rather dull green, as of “boiled vegetables.”
Amelie’s love interest, the collector of discarded strips from the photo booth, was assigned a warm brown, and his apartment strewn with evidence of his acquisitive nature: “There were, like, 6,000 matchbooks on top of his cupboard,” Bonetto cites as one example of the character’s collecting streak.
Just as Amelie’s apartment was like a nest, his apartment is under the roof, like a pigeon cote, explains Bonetto. For Delbonell, his concern in capturing a picture-perfect Paris was, “in terms of light and camera and lenses and beautiful locations” but that Jeunet’s goal was more personal, even ambassadorial. “Jean-Pierre wanted to convey a beautiful Paris (in a different way). For him, it’s more in the feeling,” Delbonnel explains.
Although the film has been a sensation at the French box office, Delbonnel claims, “It’s not even a French film … it’s (purely) Parisian. The grocery man is a typical Parisian, always arguing and rude with tourists. People from outside Paris don’t like us. I think that Jean-Pierre wanted to change this as well, to give another feeling of Paris from Amelie herself. I think he wanted to show this … (warmer side of) Paris.”