Reminiscing about his film-making roots, Jeunet recalled his early love of film as a very young and wide-eyed 8 year old. Captivated by the movie, Once Upon a Time in the West, Jeunet cheerfully remembered how much it impacted him and piqued his interest in film-making. By the age of 12 , the budding film-maker had acquired his first camera, projector and view-master, and began dabbling in puppet theatre slides.
Mesmerised by the appeal of working with his own camera, Jeunet instinctively knew that he was destined to work in film. A sci-fi lover and fan of Italian and 1940s French cinema, Jeunet has always been passionately inspired by genres unbridled by limitation or imagination. An admirer of the style of David Lynch and Tim Burton’s works, Jeunet emphasized his love of documentaries and preference for fantasy versus reality in films.
Famous for his collaborations with screenwriter Marc Caro, they began work on Jeunet’s first feature film, Delicatessen. A bizarrely enjoyable film set in a smoggy post-apocalyptic future, it’s a weird but fun story centred around a time when meat is impossible to come by resulting in some morbid cannibalistic tendencies by the Delicatessen’s owner, portrayed by Jean-Claude Dreyfuss. In addition, protagonist Dominique Pinon (regularly featuring in Jeunet’s films) stars as former clown-in-search for work, showing up at Dreyfuss’s questionable “Butcher’s” shop, becoming involved and falling in love with his daughter.
Following their journey out of this depraved wasteland, it is beautifully shot and this early film highlights Jeunet’s thirst for freedom for creativity and visual brilliance, as the constant use of yellowish-hue tones and high-production/editing standards clearly demonstrate. Much to the delight of the audience at the event, the memorable bedspring-squeaking musical scene was shown – and what a treat it was for us. Jeunet’s pride for this cinematic gem is evident and it’s no wonder that this dark comedy has become an international cult-classic and one of his most-respected works.
Jeunet’s passion for the sacred nature of imagination in his film-making couldn’t be more evident than in The City of Lost Children. Jeunet confesses his need for control by being involved in every stage of the editing process and surprisingly describes The City of Lost Children as a film for kids! Once again the Caro/Jeunet collaboration leads us into a more surreal, dystopian fantasy this time with a somewhat sci-fi/fairytale-esque feel to it and it’s filled with even more bizarre encounters.
With so much emphasis on childhood innocence and the capacity to dream, the story, whilst eerie in places, is actually really rather beautiful and inspiring. Essentially this is another good versus evil story about a monstrously tormented scientist whose inability to dream finds him kidnapping children so he can steal their dreams and reverse the ageing process. Daniel Emilfork, Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman all feature here and their performances are nothing short of perfect for this atmospheric film.
After the success of The City of Lost Children, Hollywood began showing big interest in Jeunet’s work. 20th Century Fox offered Jeunet the opportunity to direct the fourth instalment of the Alien franchise and he accepted. In his first solo feature, Jeunet described his excitement at being offered the challenge of working on an American movie, but the lack of freedom for creativity deterred him from returning to American film-making. He describes this experience as “a fight between heart and money” preferring to make films in France. He more recently turned down the opportunity to direct Harry Potter, claiming the decision was a courageous one on his part.
Upon his return home, Jeunet began work on romantic comedy Amélie. A global hit and described by Jeunet as “a film about my life”, his self-proclaimed obsession with it and low expectations for it being a huge success is surprising given it’s complete shift from his preceding, darker films. This ground-breaking, breath-taking visual delight continues to charm audiences worldwide and subsequently went onto win two BAFTA awards (Production Design and Original Screenplay). Describing Amélie as “a huge box packed with ideas”, this film is undoubtedly Jeunet’s most beloved thus far and is responsible for launching the colourful career of Audrey Tautou.
When asked about Tatou, Jeunet described her as, “funny, precise and very technical” and is always keen to work with her. Tautou’s portrayal of Amélie Poulain as a young woman continuously battling with her shyness and introvert ways is as charming as her character herself. Along with Amélie’s innocence, curiosity, and eccentricity, her attempts to change the lives of all those around her for the better make her one of the most charismatic and endearing movie characters of all-time.
Following the success of Amélie, Jeunet enlisted Tautou once more in his 2004 film, A Very Long Engagement, a romantic drama set in World War 1 about a woman in search of her lover – a soldier convicted of cowardice- and is presumed dead. Another critically acclaimed global hit and also BAFTA nominated for Film not in the English Language.
Jeunet also talked about his latest film, Micmacs, describing it as a “story of revenge” and is dubbed as a satire on weapons proliferation and contemporary cultural warfare. Micmacs follows a group of “endearing misfits” who devise a plan to bring down a two rival arms manufacturers. The trailer can be seen below.
Micmacs is released nationwide on February 26th.
Listening to Jean-Pierre Jeunet reflect on his career was awe-inspiring. His thirst for creativity, stylistic vision and passion for exploring all realms of one’s imagination and endless experimentation with striking visual effects make Jeunet one of the most sought after and unique film-maker’s of our time. A very charismatic man and a pleasure to listen to.
When HeyUGuys had the opportunity to ask a question, true to our roots, we asked Jeunet what is favourite 80s film was. After some deliberation, Jeunet said Bladerunner was his favourite – couldn’t have picked a more-fitting film really, could he?
We have included a gallery of pictures from the night and a few posters from his filmography.