'Amélie' bestows cash and chaos on Paris cafe

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The Deux-Moulins is a charmingly ordinary Parisian cafe with a copper-topped bar, a pin-ball machine and a cigarette stand by the door.

The Deux-Moulins is a charmingly ordinary Parisian cafe with a copper-topped bar, a pin-ball machine and a cigarette stand by the door.

In the space of six months, it has become one of the most celebrated cafes of the French capital, rivalling the Coupole, the Flore or the Deux Magots.

French provincial tourists, TV crews, Parisians from other quartiers and, increasingly, foreigners come daily to visit this mythical place, as if to a shrine. It has even acquired an official mention on the tourist maps of Pigalle and Montmartre. The Deux Moulins is a real cafe on the twisting and steeply sloping Rue Lepic, just above the Moulin Rouge. It is also the fictional work-place of one of the most celebrated – the most loved and the most execrated – Frenchwomen of modern times, Amélie Poulain.

Amélie is the eponymous heroine of a sweet, light, feel-good movie – Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, marketed as plain Amélie in Britain – which has an unexplicable capacity to generate (simultaneously) great quantities of happiness and ill-feeling. The movie, which took France by storm in the spring, and is now packing in audiences in Britain, divided the critics on both sides of the Channel. Some thought it charming and a breath of fresh air. Others thought it saccharine and sick-making, even fascistically patriotic.

The film (the story of a shy, do-gooding cafe waitress, played by the doe-eyed Audrey Tatou) has also sharply divided the people of its birth-place, Montmartre.

Some are proud that the film has encouraged hundreds of visitors to explore beyond the strip shows of the Boulevard de Clichy and the instant portrait painters of the Place du Tertre and discover the small-town, hill-top atmosphere of the "real Montmartre".

Others are furious. "Here we like to think of ourselves as a village," said one shop-keeper on the Rue Lepic. "A place where everyone knows everyone else, not a place where Japanese tourists spew out by the bus-load, like at Sacré Coeur. Now all of that is threatened. We have been invaded and it shows no sign of calming down. All because of the selfishness and pride of certain people who put the entire neighbourhood in danger for a little bit of fame."

The "certain people" include the movie's director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who lives just off the Rue Lepic, and Claude and Monique Labbé, proprietors of the Deux-Moulins, who hired out their cafe for three weeks for the making of the film.

"It's true that a lot of people seem to hate us now," said Ms Labbe taking a cup of tea at her favourite table in her own cafe. "This used to be a very friendly neighbourhood but some people, not all, have decided to blame us because there are so many more visitors on the street. It's commercial jealousy, that's all. They see that we have a lot more custom here than we had before and they detest that. Well, too bad. You can't please everybody."

Ms Labbe admits that some of her regular customers have grown tired of the notoriety of their favourite watering hole. "It's not so much the tourists with cameras. No-one minds them. It's the television crews who always seem to be here. There, I can understand why people get annoyed. If they come for a quiet coffee, they don't want a television camera up their nose."

The other great commercial beneficiary of Amelié's success is Ali Mdoughi, proprietor of a corner store on the Rue des Trois Frères. His business provided the location for the shop run by the heroine's favourite enemy, the grumpy greengrocer, Monsieur Collignon.

Mr Mdoughi's premises were radically changed for the needs of the movie. He has left the changes intact, including the fake, old sign "Maison Collignon" above his red awning. His trade has increased three-fold since then. "Where I was once just one corner shop, I am now everyone's favourite corner shop," he said proudly.

Mr Mdoughi cautiously admits that his success has bred some ill-feeling (neighbours accuse him behind his back of growing big-headed) but he says that most local people are "very proud" of the triumph of Amélie. "The film captures the spirit of the area, its delicacy, its subtlety, its sense of humour," he said. "The success of Amelie is our success. It is as if Montmartre had won the World Cup."

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