Innocence and Glee with Mlle Amélie

The 2001 French film Amélie is quite like a dream. . .

The leading lady Amélie Poulain is something of an enigma, and so her costuming and cinematic environment had to be as well. Unlike French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s other darker films like Delicatessan and the City of Lost Children, this one carries the gentle breeze of childlike wonder and innocence.

The beginning of the film whips its audience through a fast-paced synopsis of Amélie Poulain’s inception; a lucky sperm finds an egg, a baby is born named Amélie; she savors the earthly delights of her world through the five senses. Amélie’s sensual experience of the world is a key part of her identity. As a child, we see her carefully peeling a sheet of glue off of her little hand, eating raspberries off her ten fingers, playing doctor with her imaginary friends. As an adult she’s curious and playful, pushing her hands into a vat of dry beans at the marché and spying on neighbors.

All of these details act as personality signals, cluing viewers into the vivid inner world of this shy, quiet, introverted French girl. Her wardrobe is no different. The style swings back and forth between girlish and grandmother chic. By night she wears a super feminine, floral pointelle nightie to bed, and by day, switches between figure-flattering tops to bulky, comfy, bag lady silhouettes. Amélie is a coquettish mystery from beginning to end.

It’s said that the film’s cinematographer based his painterly frames on Brazilian painter Bruno Delbonnel’s compositions. Costume designers Madeline Fontaine and Emma Lebail closely aligned Amélie’s wardrobe with this saturated, moody aesthetic as well.

Paintings by artist Bruno Delbonnel.

Several garments featured a deep, crimson red, which somehow made her both pop out of the landscape and simultaneously blend in too. If that concept seems like a riddle, then it’s a perfect reflection of this film. Amélie’s garments seemed at home in their environment, draped cozily over her gamine frame. Despite her slender figure, she sticks to comfortable clothes–—knee-length skirts, coats that shield her petite frame, knits, and clunky leather shoes with socks.

This is a look that mashes the refined French attention to aesthetics with a hint of cozy grunge. Look out for our first-ever Cinémode “Vête Comme,” a simple style guide to bring your favorite characters off the silver screen and into your very own closet.

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