She was the most charming French character in search of romance since Pepé Le Pew. Fourteen years ago, the entirely fictional Amélie Poulain (played by the impossibly cute Audrey Tautou) delighted audiences all over the world in the movie named after her. Amélie made nearly $174 million worldwide, earned five Oscar nominations, won four Césars (the French Oscar equivalent), and reignited everyone’s fondness for crème brûlée. Here are some things you might not know about your favorite Gallic pixie.
1. THE TITLE CHARACTER WAS NAMED AFTER EMILY WATSON.
Director and co-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet wrote the part, in French, for English actress Emily Watson, and named the main character Emily. When Jeunet realized Watson’s considerable acting talent didn’t come across as well when she wasn’t speaking her native language, he revised the script to indicate Emily had grown up in England. But Watson eventually dropped out of the project, saying she didn’t want to be away from home for six months. (She made Gosford Park instead.) Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant changed the character back to being 100 percent French, and changed her name to the more Gallic Amélie.
2. JEUNET FOUND HIS STAR ON A MOVIE POSTER.
According to Jeunet, he was walking the streets of Paris not long after Emily Watson dropped out, pondering her replacement, when he saw a poster for Venus Beauty, featuring one Audrey Tautou. “I was struck by a pair of dark eyes, a flash of innocence, an unusual demeanor,” he said. “I set up a meeting and she tried for the part. After 10 seconds, I knew she was the one.”
3. A WHOLE BUNCH OF GIRLS ARE NAMED AMÉLIE BECAUSE OF IT.
Assuming, in this case, that correlation equals causation. In 2000, the year before the movie came out, there were 12 babies in England and Wales given the name Amélie. The number shot up to 250 in 2002, and by 2007, there were around 1,100 new Amélies per year. The number has held steady ever since. The trend was similar in the U.S., with Amélie not among the 1,000 most popular names until 2003, when it suddenly leapt to 839th place and rose from there.
4. JEUNET WANTED TO MAKE PARIS LOOK “FAKE,” AS IF IT WERE A SOUNDSTAGE ... BUT HE SHOT IT ON THE REAL STREETS OF PARIS.
All of Jeunet’s previous films (including Delicatessen and Alien: Resurrection) had been shot primarily in studios, which he prefers because it allows for greater control (plus you don’t have to worry about what time the sun goes down). But recreating the Montmartre neighborhood on a sound stage would have been prohibitively expensive, so Jeunet had to shoot on location, even though the real thing didn’t match the dreamlike version of his imagination. “We cleared the streets of all cars, cleaned the graffiti off the walls, replaced posters with more colorful ones, etc.,” said Jeunet. “Let’s just say I tried to exert as much control as I could upon the city’s aesthetic quality.” Post-production digital trickery helped Jeunet achieve his vision.
5. THE APARTMENT INTERIOR SCENES WERE SHOT IN A STUDIO. IN GERMANY.
Cologne, specifically. Jeunet shot there, rather than at home in France, to qualify for tax incentives.
6. YOU CAN THANK A RANDOM PRODUCTION ASSISTANT FOR THAT GREAT YANN TIERSEN MUSICAL SCORE.
Well, you can thank Tiersen, too. But Jeunet had never heard Tiersen’s work until a production assistant happened to play one of his CDs while Jeunet was in the car. “By that evening, I owned all his records,” Jeunet said. Scrapping his tentative plans, he invited Tiersen to write the score for Amélie, and ended up including a few of his previous songs, too. The soundtrack album hit number one on the French music charts.
7. THE MUSICAL SCORE—OR LACK OF ONE—MIGHT BE WHY THE FILM DIDN’T PLAY AT CANNES.
There was a bit of a brouhaha when Amélie opened in France to rapturous reviews and then wasn’t invited to play at the Cannes Film Festival, even though such invitations are common for homegrown critical favorites. Jeunet said the festival director just “didn’t find the film very interesting,” but there was another twist: the selection committee had seen what’s known as a “workprint,” an unfinished version of the movie that, in this case, didn’t have its music yet. Would it have made a difference? We will editorialize and say yes, because the music is a large part of what makes the film work so well.
8. THERE’S A BROADWAY MUSICAL VERSION IN THE WORKS, AND THE FILM’S DIRECTOR IS “DISGUSTED” BY THE VERY IDEA (BECAUSE HE HATES MUSICALS).
Sure, he sold the adaptation rights, but that was only so he could give the proceeds to charity. The Amélie musical was announced in August of 2013, to be written by playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) and composers Dan Messe (from the band Hem) and Nathan Tysen (who adapted Tuck Everlasting for the stage). It will premiere this August at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California. And in case you’re wondering: no, Yann Tiersen’s musical score from the movie plays no part in it.
9. IT’S THE HIGHEST-GROSSING FRENCH FILM EVER RELEASED IN AMERICA.
Amélie made $33.2 million in the U.S., easily surpassing the $20.4 million made by the previous record-holder, La Cage aux Folles (though not if you adjust for inflation).
10. THE COFFEE SHOP BECAME A TOURIST ATTRACTION.
Jeunet used a real cafe, really called Café des Deux Moulins, for Amélie’s workplace and the center of much of the film’s action. Next time you’re in Paris, you’ll find it at 15 Rue Lepic in Montmartre, looking approximately like it does in the movie, except that now the crème brûlée is named after Amélie, and tourists are always taking pictures of the place. (Amusingly, almost all its Yelp reviews mention the film.)
11. IT’S A VERY COLORFUL FILM, BUT BLUE IS RARELY ONE OF THE COLORS.
In general, the color palette is warm, with lots of reds, yellows, and greens; though another French movie has since implied otherwise, blue is not a warm color. When you do see blue in Amélie, it’s usually to provide contrast, and it was often added in post-production.
12. THE LEADING MAN WROTE AND DIRECTED A MOVIE THAT’S BASICALLY THE OPPOSITE OF AMÉLIE.
In 1995, the dashing Mathieu Kassovitz made La Haine, a violent sociopolitical drama about racial tension in Paris, acclaimed for its realism. That’s the bizarro version of Amélie, where Paris is trouble-free and consists almost entirely of white people (for which the film was criticized by some).
13. THE STAR DIDN’T WANT TO BE AN ACTRESS AS A CHILD. SHE WANTED TO WORK WITH MONKEYS.
Audrey Tautou was an actress and model from a young age, but it wasn’t what she planned on doing after she grew up. She wanted to be a primatologist, and actually took a trip to Sumatra after Amélie to study orangutans.