Jean-Pierre Jeunet Talks Micmacs
The Amelie director on his latest whimsical adventure, returning to Hollywood, and his problem with Wes Anderson
Seems like an age since French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been on screens: his last film, the World War I drama A Very Long Engagement, bowed way back in 2004, capitalizing on the planet's then-love affair with his eccentric romance Amelie (2001) and its elvish leading lady, Audrey Tautou. Since then the filmmaker has turned down a Harry Potter installment and seen his mooted adaptation of Yann Martel's Life of Pi fall over, but this week he returns with Micmacs, a typically oddball piece about an orphan and a circus troupe taking on evil weapons manufacturers. The film touches on Jeunet's work with former colleague Marc Caro, particularly the off kilter characterization of their hit, Delicatessen. We caught up with Jeunet to discuss the film.
RT: So, Micmacs is finally here. It's good to see you back.
J-PJ: Yes. But, you know, I lost two years working on Life of Pi.
Was that stressful?
No, no, because I think I made the best part. I wrote the script, which was a pleasure, and Twentieth Century Fox was very happy with the script. And I made the storyboard to figure out the digital process. For that I had a model of the boat and the tiger and the kid, and with my video camera I took 3,500 digital shots for editing.
That's almost like a feature film.
Yes. The thing was ready to shoot. We knew everything, except it was too expensive.
Will you ever come back to it?
Ang Lee is supposed to make the film now. It will be an expensive movie, in any case.
It's been over five years now since A Very Long Engagement and I guess audiences might have been wondering, "Where has he gone?"
Yes, it's a little bit dangerous in this case -- especially in France.
Has the film been received well there?
Well... yes and no. I had three huge successes and three is enough, you know. [Laughs] Now this film is very good for some and for others it's just a piece of sh-t. Normal in France, you know. Lucky for me my film is sold everywhere in the world. I don't count in terms of French admission, but in terms of world admission. But I try to just make the most beautiful film I have in my head. On the other hand, I feel that I am ready to make another film with American actors, but maybe with the French rhythm. I would like to find the perfect compromise.
You've mentioned that Micmacs resembles a combination between Delicatessen and Amelie. Do you go back and look at your old films to achieve this, or is it just something subconscious that's there?
Maybe because I was so starving to shoot, maybe it was a mix of everything I love. My references were like Mission: Impossible, Sergio Leone's movies, and jokes I wanted to put in for a long time -- like the gag over the credits. No limits. I didn't care. I wanted to make a film for the fun.
So is this "Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Greatest Hits"?
Yes, yes. Recycled here. [Laughs]
Where did the idea for this film originate?
It was a mix of three different things: of the weapons seller issue, the story of a revenge, and the feeling to make something with a silly original band of people, like the toys of Toy Story, or the Seven Dwarfs of Snow White.
It also has something of a silent film, almost slapstick feel to it.
Yes. Totally, Buster Keaton. The scene with the cannon is completely Buster Keaton.
Danny Boon's in this, and he's a huge star in France, with Welcome to the Sticks---
21 million admissions! Amelie was a huge film in France, with eight and a half millions before that.
Before he came along. Did you enjoy working with him?
Oh yes. He's a very nice guy. I hired him just before the success of Welcome to the Sticks, but after that he stayed the same. He could have gone crazy. I saw, after the success of the film, one million people in front of his balcony in his hometown. But he stays the same. Very nice guy, polite, never late. Very creative, imaginative actor and technical in the centre.
What do you demand most out of actors in your films -- do they have to be inventive?
It depends, but I do some tests every time. For everybody -- even Dominique Pinon, my favorite performer.
What is it about Dominique that you love?
You know, he surprises me every time. And I love his face. For me, it is beautiful. Marc Caro used to say there are two definitions of beautiful: the African statues or the Greek statues, you know? We prefer the African statues. Dominique Pinon is a beautiful African statue. I couldn't imagine my films without him.