The Sounds of an Imagined Paris: The Music of Amélie

There is often a mythical attachment to France, and doubly so for it’s capital, Paris. Who, past the age of existence, hasn’t heard of the City of Love? Oft there are romantic scenes within films or novels of walking cobblestone streets under the vigilant and benevolent gaze of the Eiffel Tower, and millions of love-struck travelers flock there each year. The reality, however, is always a little more dirty than our dreams and expectations would ever allow, and Parisians are notorious for their unfriendliness towards tourists; Paris itself being known to be rather dirty, partially due to the immense level of pedestrian foot traffic, and the tourism industry doesn’t do the city many favours, either.

Enter Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (More simply known as “Amélie” in the United States), a film that defies normal explanation, yet is of immeasurable cinematic worth. Most people I know, when asked to explain the movie, fail to do so in a simple soundbite’s worth of words, as it spans so much in it’s content that a mere synopsis does it no justice. It’s basically a romantic comedy set in a bucholic, idealized Paris, starring an socially-stunted yet highly romantic protagonist (the eponymous Amélie) played brilliantly by Audrey Tautou. She lives with one foot in reality and one foot solidly planted in fantasy, imagining wild explanations for everyday occurrences and ruminating over such pressing topics like: “How many people in Paris are having an orgasm as this very instant?” It may appear to be vulgar, but it is presented with such child-like wonder, that it is anything but perverse to the ever-curious Amélie. To call it a romantic comedy is the only easy category to place it in without having to amend it with a series of other adjectives and nouns, accompanied by a mantra of confused and struggling “ums,” and “ers,” as the speaker struggles to faithfully classify the film.

The soundtrack, which this is all leading to, really serves as a solid pillar that helps hold the film’s various enigmatic bits together. In a word, it is wildly whimsical. It fits in with the mythical Parisian feel of the whole film, yet still serves as an appreciable listen, in it’s own regard. Most tracks, composed by French musician Yann Tiersen, have an accordion as their base, with accompaniment from anything from an orchestra, a harpsichord, flutes, or xylophones. The quality of the recordings, to my relatively untrained ears, is superb. A lossless-quality rip straight from the CD on medium-high-grade headphones gives a great sound, and the recordings are clear enough that during any of the more quiet moments, you can even hear the buttons being pressed on the accordion behind the main melody. It creates an organic sort of sound that lends well to the overall tone of the CD, which is largely without any apparent electronic support.

Another comforting aspect of the CD is it’s overall production design. Some soundtracks splice fragments of the movie into the soundtrack, which can take away from the overall quality of the songs being presented themselves. The “Shaun of the Dead” soundtrack is quite egregiously guilty of this, as an immediate example. It is just the music itself, clean and simple. The only tracks with any vocals are taken from worn vinyl recordings of an American and French pop song from the 1930’s, full of nostalgic hiss and pop, and doesn’t really detract from the album’s overall tone. On a beautiful, sunny day, this will fit right in to the whole experience; they’re songs to listen to whilst driving, or when on a long walk. If there’s anything I could say against it is that for anyone who doesn’t like accordions, this will definitely not be your sort of music. The sound can be slightly same-samey at first glance, but the tracks are luckily written differently enough that there are distinctions between the tracks, so one just has to take the accordions at face value.

I don’t really have much of an ear for scores, in most cases. Many times to me there are movie tracks that just doesn’t seem to go well without something else accompanying it, like the movie they were written for. They sound empty, almost, or just missing key out of the composition. An example of this that I can think of at the top of my head is the “Tron: Legacy” score. It’s not a bad album, but feels like it’s missing something critical, mostly because the tracks accompany the scenes, they complement them, but usually just to the point before they become noticeable or assertive. The “Amélie” soundtrack, I judge, can be listened to on it’s own. The songs are constructed enough to compliment the film very well, but aren’t enough of background music that they don’t have some spirit of their own. It’s not to say that it’s everyday listening, or even really music you’d expect to hear from a car stereo, but it’s still entirely solid in it’s own right.

Perhaps you wouldn’t want to actually blast this music in the streets of Paris, or, perhaps you would, but all in all, this album is an amazing addition to any fan of the movie, which would likely be it’s main target audience, anyways. If not, you could always play it on a long drive in the summer, and you may just win over a couple more listeners, and potentially a couple new viewers of the phenomenal film. Luckily the album is far more able to be explained than the movie, but it’s not exactly unfortunate, because it is the film’s bizarre, yet undefinable charm that helps give it such lasting appeal to me. Now owning the soundtrack only compliments that, and I can take this little bit of whimsy and warmth with me to whatever city I may see.

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