August 10, 2003
Cinematography Meets Geography in Montmartre
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
HIS is the period of pilgrimage in Paris to familiar shrines like the Eiffel Tower (newly garlanded with 20,000 blinking lights) and the Louvre (with an annual summer amusement park in the Tuileries Garden next door). Then there are newer shrines, like a cafe and a greengrocer in the shadow of Montmartre, all because of a mischievous but do-good 23-year-old film heroine named Amélie Poulain.
"Amélie," a quirky low-budget film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was nominated for five Oscars and has been seen by more than 25 million people since its release in 2001. In the film (released in France as "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain"), the title character, played by the French actress Audrey Tautou, is a good fairy who touches friends, family members and even strangers with her anonymous acts of generosity.
Now the spirit of the film has spread to a corner of Montmartre where the film is set. And the real-life places that she frequented have profited from her magic, creating a cult of Amélie, particularly among foreign tourists who seek to follow in her footsteps. The French call it the "Amélie Poulainization" of the neighborhood.
The magic seems to have spread even beyond Montmartre. In May, the designer Lancel introduced an Amélie line of whimsical clothing, handbags and shoes printed with maps of the landmarks of Paris, although a company spokesman insisted that there was no connection to the film and that the fabric pattern was taken from a greeting card from the 1950's. A canvas handbag trimmed in red leather sells for $354, a canvas grocery cart at $295 (prices at $1.18 to the euro), far more expensive than anything Amélie Poulain would have owned.
"The film was like a cloud of happiness on which everyone in the world would like to float," said Laure Morandina, the head of Montmartre's neighborhood association. "There are moments of the film that touched something universal and also captured the spirit of Montmartre as a village where even if the whole world visits us, we still know all the shopkeepers."
Amélie's world is not the Montmartre of the white-domed basilica of Sacré-Coeur and the instant portrait painters of the Place du Tertre nearby or the sex and strip shops of the Boulevard de Clichy.
This is the rapidly gentrifying but close-knit area of Abbesses, just up the road from the original Moulin Rouge nightclub. There is a a twice-monthly newspaper called La Gazette de Montmartre: The Voice of the Village that still reports on neighborhood events like births and weddings, business meetings and watercolor exhibitions.
The Café des Deux Moulins on the Rue Lepic where Amélie worked as a waitress has become one of the most frequented cafes in the neighborhood since the movie opened. When its longtime owner, Claude Labbé, announced he was selling it last year, there were rumors it would become an Amélie theme bar or even worse, a fast-food restaurant.
Indeed, Marc Fougedoire, the new owner, eliminated the classic cigarette stand, an important focal point in the film, to make room for more tables. Cloth tablecloths were replaced by paper.
But the copper-topped bar, mustard-colored ceiling, lace curtains and 1950's décor have been preserved, including the neon wall lamps. So has the unisex toilet that is the scene of a frenzied coupling between Georgette, a hypochondriac cigarette seller, and Joseph, a rough patron whose life is transformed by love. There are no glossy autographed photos of the stars of the film, no articles cut from newspapers, just posters of Amélie from the movie hanging on the front door and the back wall. Smoking is allowed; there is an area for nonsmokers.
Except for a Sunday brunch, the menu has mostly stayed the same, and includes a green salad with warm goat cheese, three pâtés "Deux Moulins," steak au poivre and pig's brains with lentils. The hamburger comes with an egg on top.
"It was really love at first sight," said Mr. Fougedoire of his decision to buy the cafe. "We were careful not to change anything except the cigarette stand, which annoyed the smokers and didn't look very authentic. We could have made it more 'Amélie,' but we wanted it to stay a real Parisian cafe."
Tourists and veterans compete for space, but not all are pleased.
"There's no tabac," lamented Shinobu Otsubo, a 23-year-old Japanese exchange student in Paris who has seen the film four times. "What a shame. It was the symbol of the film."
Others are entranced. "This is charm, this is magic," said Sebastien Metzger, a 19-year-old student from Stuttgart who had seen the movie several times and was following Amélie's route. "And it's all so simple and pure."
The cafe is now so chic that a 14-page fashion feature in the August issue of French Vogue was photographed there.
Ali Mdoughy, the Moroccan-born greengrocer whose store, Au Marché de la Butte on the Rue des Trois Frères, was a key site in the film, has left up the signpost from the film that renamed the store "Maison Collignon, founded in 1956." It was here that Amélie regularly bought her three hazelnuts and one fig.
Mr. Mdoughy, who has owned the store for 30 years, is quite different from the grocer in the film, a French bully who publicly humiliates his Algerian employee, the only non-Frenchman in the film. Mr. Mdoughy has turned over management of the store to Rachid Assab, his brother, and now runs a bakery down the street. He even thought - briefly - of naming it Amélie's Bakery, and creating a chocolate in her name.
The store is more upscale than the typical corner groceries that are usually run by Arab immigrants and stay open late on Sundays. Fruit is displayed in wicker baskets trimmed in plastic holly. A framed photograph of Amélie from the movie hangs in the window. Postcards of the grocery store sell for $1.15.
Mr. Mdoughy has created a Web site (www.epicerie-collignon.com) that features a map of "the path of Amélie" and has issued a CD called "Ali: L'Épicier de Montmartre," featuring old songs from Montmartre, Berber tunes with electro beats, as well as his personal musings about life and legumes. The CD was recorded largely in the grocery store, by a neighborhood musician who has been shopping there for 20 years.
"Amélie," Mr. Mdoughy said, "has changed my life."
The film was particularly popular in Japan, and there are tours led by Japanese tour guides; in January the Michelin guide Web site www.viamichelin.com published a two-hour itinerary of Amélie's world (it can be found in the archives). Among the must-see spots are the antique carousel in the Place St.-Pierre, where Amélie has a meeting with her future beau; the terraced garden leading up to Sacré-Coeur; and the Lamarck-Caulaincourt Métro station, where Amélie lends a hand to a blind man; and the Canal St.-Martin, in the 10th Arrondissement with its locks, iron bridges and new shops and cafes.
Part of the film's attraction, and part of what draws people to this neighborhood, is that it offers a nostalgic view of a Paris that no longer exists and perhaps never did. The film has been praised as charming and feel-good and criticized as saccharine, even fascistic. There is no graffiti or trash in the Métro. Indeed, in making his film, Mr. Jeunet unclogged the streets of too many cars, scrubbed graffiti off walls and used rose and golden lenses.
The Communist daily newspaper L'Humanité faulted the film for showing a Paris "cleaned of immigrants, a Paris well cleaned," adding, "It is not stated but everyone knows that the 'Fabulous Destiny' is a fascist film."
In any case, Mr. Jeunet was honored with the National Order of Merit by President Jacques Chirac, who called watching the film at the Élysée Palace "one of the best evenings of my life." In a speech shortly after the film opened, François Fillon, now France's labor and social affairs minister, urged France to become "softer," with more "tolerance, more fraternity, a bit like the France of Amélie Poulain."
The discovery of Amélie's world has also created some tension between neighborhood regulars and the outside invaders. Tattoo artists, fast-food joints and inexpensive clothing shops have replaced many longtime merchants. Real estate prices soared even higher after the film was made, and last year, the Villa Royale, a luxury hotel where rooms start at about $285, opened on the Rue Duperre near Place Pigalle.
It was seen as a victory for residents and merchants when the cheese merchant Michel Catherine retired and managed to sell his shop to another cheese merchant several months ago. But the fishmonger who used to cry, "Eat good fish and you will have beautiful children" is gone.
The one-time working-class neighborhood has become even more upscale than before. Rotisserie chickens turning on spits are sold at a neighborhood butcher shop as they are in the movie, for more than $16 each. Litchis from Madagascar and black truffles are available in the markets.
"Amélie Poulain made prices, especially real estate prices, skyrocket," said Annic Journet, as she dined on steak with braised endives in the Café des Deux Moulins, talking as if Amélie were a real person. "Prices were already going up, but the movie created even more buzzing about the neighborhood," added Ms. Journet, who has lived with her sister in the neighborhood for 25 years. "People took advantage of that buzzing to make great deals."
As for the changes in the cafe since the movie, "It used to be more like a village," she said. "There used to be more faces from the neighborhood. Rue Lepic. Rue Montmartre. Now it's tourists. Now we find the service is charming and they smile more. But we'll go somewhere else now."
Café des Deux Moulins, 15, rue Lepic; (33-1) 18.104.22.168; Métro: Blanche. Classics like salade frisée aux lardons ($8.85, at $1.18 to the euro) and a demi-Camembert with a glass of Côtes du Rhône ($7).
Au Marché de la Butte, 56, rue des Trois Frères; (33-1) 22.214.171.124; Métro: Abbesses. Closed Monday. A traditional French neighborhood convenience store that still looks very much like the épicerie in the movie. The owner's CD is $24.
A ride on the carousel at the Place St.-Pierre is $2.50. Métro: Anvers. Open daily.
The scene in which Amélie throws stones into the Canal St.-Martin is in the 10th Arrondissement at the river lock at the corner of the Rue des Vinaigriers and the Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles.
ELAINE SCIOLINO is chief of the Paris bureau of The Times.
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After injury, sometimes the worst enemy is 'exaggerated healing'
By Scott LaFee
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 16, 2003
SurgiWrap, a bioabsorbable film developed by San Diego-based MacroPore Biosurgery Inc., helps reduce internal scarring by creating a temporary physical barrier between tissues.
Wound healing is an obvious and fundamental need. Organisms that repair injuries quickly and effectively survive; those that don't, don't.
But the degree to which life displays this talent is wide and diverse. Some worms, for example, can rebuild whole portions of their bodies. Newts are able to regenerate entire limbs.
Humans and other mammals lack these superlative restorative skills. When we suffer significant injury, healing almost invariably results in scarring – nature's version of a spot weld.
In most cultures most of the time, scars are not desirable. Aesthetics aside, there are sound health reasons for wanting to avoid being scarred. Scar tissue is never as good as the original. It tends to be coarser, weaker and less elastic. It can be disfiguring, disabling or, occasionally, deadly.
Scarring is mending run amok, the result of "an exaggerated healing process," said Dr. Warren Garner, an associate professor of surgery at USC and director of the Burn Service at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
Doctors and medical researchers would like to sever that connection, to make healing scar-free, or as much as possible. The challenge is daunting, but the research is promising. It ranges from genetic manipulation to block cellular signals to form scars; to deciphering a healing secret unique to the unborn; to a growing arsenal of therapeutic treatments that includes wrapping internal organs in bioabsorbable film, enveloping damaged skin in sheets of silicon gel and using radiation and cryosurgery.
The healing process "Our understanding of the wound repair has made dramatic progress over the last 20 years," said Dr. Richard Gallo, an associate professor of medicine at UCSD and chief of dermatology for the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.
"After a wound to the skin, the blood must clot, the immune system must start fighting against infection, then the wound must close. Clotting is well understood. The immune defense system is now partially understood. But the last step of repair is still a relatively underdeveloped science. A big mystery is what activates cells to start to heal, organize themselves into a new structure, then stop the repair process."
Even stripped down to its simplest description, the biological repair process is enormously complicated, involving a cascade of overlapping phases and multiple cellular players.
Numerous factors can disrupt or alter the normal healing process – and result in a more serious or problematic scar. At the site of the injury, for example, there must be space for new cells to grow, and effective communication between them. The injury must be well-supplied with blood carrying oxygen, nutrients and hormones. It must be free of infection.
There can be complications due to age, general health, how quickly the injury received treatment, degree of initial infection and genetic predisposition to scarring.
"Our knowledge of wound repair and scarring is a bit like that of most people and cars. We know that if you put your foot down on the accelerator, the car moves," said Garner at USC. "Most of us don't have any real knowledge of how the engine works."
Except for teeth, every living tissue in the human body can heal, but not all heal exactly the same way. "The general process is pretty much the same, but there are different factors involved with different tissues," said Dr. Marc Hedrick, medical director of MacroPore Biosurgery, a San Diego-based company that produces bioresorbable implants and conducts regenerative therapy research.
The liver, for example, is capable of completely rebuilding damaged tissue with no scarring. Kidneys and lungs possess lesser regenerative abilities and are thus more susceptible to damage that results in scarring. Injured heart tissue almost invariably scars, which may be life-threatening.
Born without scars
Gene therapy may ultimately provide a preventive solution to scarring.
"In my opinion," said Gallo at UCSD, "this is the only real way to make progress in treating scars. Once we better understand the genetics behind all the steps of wound repair, we can design a rational genetic approach. The goal is to make repair more like regeneration, and to do this without the risk of uncontrolled cell proliferation."
Some researchers are already pursuing this option. Two years ago, Dr. Mario Chojkier, a professor of medicine at UCSD, and colleagues at the Salk Institute, Veterans Administration San Diego Healthcare system and elsewhere, reported that they had successfully prevented excessive liver scarring in mice by tinkering with a protein involved in the process. They are now preparing for human clinical studies, with several biotechnology companies interested, Chojkier said.
Others are taking different approaches, including one that hopes to revive a remarkable healing ability that all humans possess – for a time.
In the 1980s, doctors discovered that unborn humans in the first 20 to 24 weeks of development do not scar.
"We could conduct in utero surgery where we take the fetus out of the womb, open its chest to correct a lung problem, then put it back into the womb and there would be no chest scar," said Hedrick, who specialized in surgery and pediatrics at UC San Francisco.
As yet, no one can fully explain why this happens in unborn children, but not in adults. There are many confounding variables.
Specifically, embryonic wounds appear to heal without an inflammatory phase, and the mechanism of cellular regrowth is different. Rather than closing cell by cell, fetal wounds close as a sheet of epithelial cells move forward in unison, pulled inward like a purse string.
In addition, the womb is a sterile place, though Hedrick notes that sterile wounds in adults still scar. In the womb, fetuses are bathed in high levels of hyaluronic acid, which helps collagen form in an organized way. Yet experiments applying hyaluronic acid to adult wounds have shown no significant ameliorative effect.
Researchers have noted that fetal wounds contain greater and lesser amounts of different forms of Transforming Growth Factor-beta (TGF-b), a family of proteins linked to scar formation. And at least one drug designed to inhibit TGF-b in patients suffering from fibrosis – scarring of the heart, lungs, kidneys or limbs – has begun clinical trials.
Chojkier says research into replicating fetal healing ability offers great allure and promise, but it is not without dangers or controversy.
"Certainly, the risks of having a great regenerative capability could have consequences for uncontrolled cell proliferation resulting in cancer growth," he said. In addition, such research involves using embryonic stem cells, which remain a subject of heated political and scientific debate.
In the meantime, researchers have made notable progress in treating – and sometimes preventing – scarring through physical means. For example, MacroPore began marketing last year a thin, clear film designed to reduce postoperative internal scarring in surgery patients.
SurgiWrap looks like ordinary plastic food wrap, except that it is made from polymerized lactic acid and is bioabsorbable. Its purpose is to keep separate healing tissues after surgery.
For example, after open-heart surgery, scar tissue will often form between the heart and the internal chest wall, connecting the two and reducing the heart's ability to beat freely and fully. By wrapping the heart in SurgiWrap, said Hedrick, doctors can block the binding effect.
"It doesn't affect the scarring process directly," said Hedrick, "but rather, it tricks it. The wrap acts like a force field between organs. Scarring goes sideways instead of connecting, and over three to six months, longer than the scarring maturation phase, the wrap is metabolized by the body into water and carbon dioxide."
More established treatments for existing scars are improving, too.
"Basically, a scar is the failure of a tissue, any tissue, to reorganize its cells in the same pattern as before injury," said Gallo at UCSD. "The physical approaches are all essentially giving the skin another chance to heal in a more cosmetically appropriate way." Surgery – Almost 5 percent of reconstructive surgeries in the United States are procedures to redress existing scars. Surgery, including those using lasers, is only modestly effective. Surgery usually replaces a targeted scar with a new scar, albeit one that may be less visible or troublesome.
Radiation – Exposure to X-rays is usually a culprit in scarring, a cause of fibrosis in internal tissues. But some research suggests that low-dose, superficial radiation can reduce the recurrence rate of some scar types after surgery. Radiation of scars is controversial, however, due to concerns about possible long-term side effects.
Cryotherapy – There has been some success using liquid nitrogen, with a temperature of minus 321 degrees. The nitrogen freezes the scar, causing a blister that in theory heals better, producing a smaller subsequent scar.
Steroids – Steroid injections can soften and flatten scars. The steroid is injected into the scar itself to reduce possible side effects caused by the drug being absorbed into the blood stream. These are only given under medical supervision.
Collagen – Collagen is injected beneath sunken scars to build up the level of skin tissue. The effect, however, is temporary because the collagen is eventually metabolized by the body, thus requiring repeated, regular injections.
Pressure garments – These are only worn under medical supervision, usually in cases where new scarring (as in a burn) covers a large area of skin. The garments are custom-made from a tight, elastic material and work best when worn 24 hours a day for six to 12 months. How exactly they work is not understood, though the continuous pressure on surface blood vessels likely plays a part. Over time, scars beneath pressure garments soften, flatten and become paler.
Silicone gel sheets – First developed in the 1980s and now available for self-treatment, silicone gel sheets look like transparent gelatin. They are soft, waterproof and flexible. Applied to skin, they work by flattening, softening and fading dark, raised scars.
Of course, not everyone wants to hide or remove their scars.
"Children wear them like medals," said the poet Leonard Cohen. "Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh."
More fundamentally, a scar is proof, whether we like it or not, of being alive.
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