BY EMILY GAGNE
I’m going to be honest right now and tell you that, normally, I hate Valentine’s Day. I know that’s mostly my perpetually single lady angst talking, corrupting another socially acceptable opportunity to gorge on chocolate excessively and drink cinnamon heart lattes. (Thank god for Galentine’s Day, ladies!) But it’s the truth. Or at least it was the truth until last Thursday.
Usually I spend my Valentine’s nights alone, making nice with my old frenemy Godiva and her BFF (I mean, IMHO), Asti Spumante. It’s a fine way to spend a holiday really, but it’s nothing spectacular, especially in comparison to some of the over-the-top evenings I know my attached friends are having. And while I thrive on alone time regularly, being alone when you know everyone else is together is a whole other, soul-crushing beast. This year I decided to do a 360, however. That is, I decided to spend Feb. 14 attending the latest 360 Screenings event with my single friends in Toronto. And by doing so, I managed to have my best Valentine’s Day of my 23-year-old life.
From the moment I found out the theme of the season’s most exciting and interactive film-themed party, I was, to quote my girl Alanis, head over feet. At the end of the October instalment, a zombie make-up and mini cheeseburger fest in honour of 28 Days Later, 360 creators Ned Loach and Robert Gontier noted that their next multimedia theatre and film experiment was going to be of a “whimsical” nature. Immediately, my mind zoned in on several of my all-time favourite, whimsy-heavy movies, mainly Big Fish and Edward Scissorhands. Then, as January swept in, and more detailed clues came out, including ones featuring clothed animals and paintings of foliage and bridges, I thought of an even better choice: Amélie.
Although I did get some veiled clues during an interview with Loach, my suspicions were not officially confirmed until the day before the event, when 360 sent out their e-mail revealing the Toronto heritage the festivities would be held at (Artscape Wychwood Barns), as well as some costuming and prop notes (bring pennies, wear red, have a French dictionary on hand). I’d only seen Amélie twice in its entirety before, but I remembered the plot pretty well, including its red-rocking protagonist (Audrey Tautou), her affinity for lamps held up by suited-up pigs, a scene involving skipping rocks off a bridge and a whole lot of French subtitles. If they’re not hinting to Amélie, I’m going to hang up my Cinefille chapeau forever, I said to myself, whilst fitfully crossing my fingers.
Lucky for me and my inquisitive, Harriet the Spy/Veronica Mars/Spencer Hastings wannabe nature, I was right on the money. As I walked through the designated glass doors of Wychward Barns last Thursday and saw the words “What would you do with 2 hours in Paris?” etched on a chalkboard, ye olde love-hating Emily began melting away to make way for her fabulous, en Français counterpart. The transformation was solidified just moments after, as one of my closest girlfriends and I happened upon this….
If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember that Amélie goes on a search for the only man who has ever made her heart light up, E.T. styles, leaving clues for him regarding her whereabouts until he becomes equally intrigued by her. The sign seen above borrows directly from a poster he puts up in hopes of finding her again, down to the main picture and everything.
If you can believe it, that poster was actually one of the less detailed features of the evening, which included several rooms filled with actors playing characters seen in the film, and homages, food and prop-wise, to specific scenes and Parisian traditions. On one upper level, a friend and I talked paintings and ginger snaps with Amélie’s old man pal “The Glass Man” (see: the fella with the fur hat below). On another level, we pondered the location of a missing garden gnome with Amélie’s tool cleaning-obsessed father. Near the back of the main room, we had glasses of wine as we shopped for artisan cheeses and pepperoni at a mini market much like the one Amélie frequents. On the flip side of the space, we pulled the plug on a man trying to watch sports on TV, just as Amélie did as a child.
And that’s not even covering the half of it. One of the highlights of the evening, for me personally anyway, had to be when we were given a whole baguette a piece. Maybe I’m just a carbivore, but the first thing I thought of when I came into that first room and pondered what I would do with two hours in Old Paree, was baguettes. Baguettes, cheese and wine. And here I was, having all three of those things, all while talking to a frantic young woman with the more officially french version of my name.
The experience was surreal, to say the least, not to mention wholly wonderful. Not only were my Cinefille sensibilities being taken care of, via my seemingly effortless surroundings, my stomach was full satisfied too. And while I don’t believe in lovey-dovey sayings, I know for a fact that the path to this woman’s heart is through her stomach. And god, was mine ever full by the end of the night. Much more full than it’s ever been with Godiva and Asti by its side.
My only complaint about this event (and all 360 Screenings) is that the interactive bit, which is featured for about an hour before you are ushered into a screening area and finally told the title of the film you’ve been celebrating, is too short. I had to sneak around, like an ever-plotting, introverted little girl, to try and see everything before it was too late.
I’m sure the fact that I spent a significant amount of time chasing down delicious Dufflet tarts for myself and my friends didn’t help my cause. But still, I think a half hour of extra time wouldn’t hurt anyone. These guys have put so much time and effort aside to make this happen, and I want to take in every single delightful detail at least once.
While I still can’t wrap my head around romantic love, I feel love for the movies every second of the day, and I know in my slowly softening heart that the men behind 360 Screenings do too. That’s why this event, probably their most special one yet, made me feel complete opposite of what I’ve felt for my last 23 Valentine’s celebrations — completely and lovingly in on the fun.