The only time I have ever been to a cinema and witnessed applause at the end of the film was in Paris for Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulin (shortened to Amélie for the international market).
The French know quality when they see it.
In the film, Nino Quincampoix, played by Matthieu Kassovitz, is the eccentric appreciator of overlooked beauty. He works in a Parisian sex shop and reconstructs the scraps of photos that fall from train station photo booths.
When he drops an album of his photo-booth reconstructions, it’s picked up by the ever-curious Amélie. That launches a cat-and-mouse game between the two that just might end in love.
The story in the film is in fact inspired by actual events. Parisian writer Michel Folco was already collecting all the imperfect photographs that people left behind in photo booths, wondering what their stories were and why they left their photos behind. It was a different world where privacy was less of a concern than it is now.
Every time he passed by a booth, he’d look behind, inside and at the sides and well as on top and in the adjacent bin for any discarded photos.
He collected the pictures of people who didn’t know how the stool worked and ended up with only half their head in the frame, those who checked the machine had taken their coins just at the wrong moment when the camera flashed. Then there were those who didn’t know that the booth took four different photographs, so they had to wait for all four flashes before leaving.
Then there were those I wanted to adjust their hair just when the flash went off, those that closed their eyes or were looking elsewhere or the times when the machine went wrong for any number of reasons.
He picked them all up and put them together in large folders
And then there was the story of the mysterious young man who threw away perfectly good photographs.
He found pictures of him daily in all the photo booths in Paris. Even though there was nothing wrong with them, they always went in the bin.
This intrigued Falco.
He imagined all kinds of scenarios – was it some kind of psychosis?
A strange way of committing suicide? Rather than shooting himself, did he prefer tearing up his photograph? A figurative suicide in some way?
No, in fact, there was a much simpler, more prosaic explanation.
One day, he saw him leaving the photo booth and locking it with a key.
It was in fact the repair engineer who was testing the machine every time he worked on it.
The spell was broken.
Collecting the imperfect photographs of strangers suddenly wasn’t as attractive as it had been previously.
Folco is still a writer and a photographer and has worked for agencies across the world. He’s gone on to bigger and greater things.
Humans are story making machines, even those of us who say we’re not creative or can’t write, draw or sing, we all tell stories.
They’re not about creating art, they’re images and scenarios we all create, all the time. They’re what make us believe what we believe about ourselves and the world that surrounds us. They’re what create our values, our motivations and our self-limiting beliefs.
So someone collecting images from photo booths may be a quirky little story (and so Parisian!) but the story somehow reveals how all of us create scenarios and dialogues in our minds that are unique to us.
And that is to be celebrated.
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