Amelie & travelling gnomes. What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

What’s your new year’s resolution?

Has a film ever inspired you to do something different, or make a change? The period after Christmas and before the New Year is a time for reflection. It’s not just the new year that inspires change though – it could be a book, a film or a friend.

Perhaps you’re bored of your job and want something new, or perhaps you just want to give up your unhealthy Buzzfeed addiction.

This summer, I decided to take a look at the phenomenon of the Travelling Gnome movement in cinema for The Big Picture Magazine, starting with everyone’s favourite French rom com – Amelie – and I’m revisiting it now, before New Year, because this is my new year’s resolution: to explore more.

Gnome3

Fairy tales inform us that the gnome is a reclusive figure, content to hide in the safety of his underground burrow. How apt, then, that suburbia adopted him as a staple garden ornament, immortalising him as an icon of home living and all its traps. Of course, there have always been those who like to stir things up: domesticity and routine ever the target, this kitsch face of suburbia was, by the 1980s, ripe for liberation.

‘Gnoming’, as the practice is known, involves stealing a garden gnome and returning it ‘to the wild’. It started in the 80s, gained popularity over the following 30 or so years, and was quietly kept simmering in the public’s consciousness through the quirky France-based Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin, or The Garden Gnome Liberation Front, until 2001. Enter Amélie,Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s slice of pure French-fancy escapism.

A notoriously world cinema-phobic international audience lapped it up, drawn to the highly exotified depiction of Paris complete with accordion soundtrack, cobbled streets and a healthy dose of boisterous continental sex. It’s a film as whimsical as a garden gnome and as sweet as creme brulee. Crack its surface to discover more layers of soft romance with no hard consequences, and follow its heroine around a caramel-filtered, stylised version of Paris that doesn’t really exist.

Gnome4Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is a dreamer and tinkerer whose kooky logic includes stealing (or ‘liberating) her father’s garden gnome and giving it to an air hostess friend to photograph at famous sights around the world. Why? This is the most straightforward way to show her father what he’s missing, of course. The garden gnome, collector of moss and historically reclusive figure is turned into a liberator, prompting Amélie’s father to leave and travel.

Thirteen years on, Amélie remains one of the most cherished foreign language films in the UK and US. Audiences responded to the safe yet exotic version of Paris depicted so beautifully, because it encapsulated a social desire to escape from the mundanity of everyday life. And the gnome itself? It has since become the front of a travel agent’s advertising campaign and a Time Magazine cover feature, forever immortalised as the face of travel, change and escape.

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4 Comments

  1. Amelie is a great movie. As for new years resolutions, have not thought about them yet, but I guess they will be part of my Film year post I’m planning on writing soon. I might do a Blindspot series as I have seen a lot of bloggers doing those. Plus probably make up a couple of new blogathons.

    1. Thanks Chris! Excellent review. And your holiday sounds splendid! Do you still have the gnome? I came across Amelie when it played on channel 4 as a double bill with The Triplets of Belleville. Instantly fell in love with both. Not seen either for a year or two, think it’s time for a revisit!

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