04 March 2010

Jean-Pierre Jeunet

 In town for the screening of his new film Micmacs à tire-larigot at ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE French Film Festival  director Jean-Pierre Jeunet  (Amélie, Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) cuts an amiable figure.  His unguarded English sparkles with his trademark humour as he talks freely about scouting locations by scooter, living in Montmatre and the influence of comedian Buster Keaton on his work. Self-taught in his craft, he has a healthy disdain for realism, reviews and promotion.

On his most famous movie : "I am Amélie." The breakout local and international success of the film was a personal triumph for Jeunet, the story is the most close to him and his long time collaborating script-writer, Guillame Lauvant. "It is the film of my life," he says after the giggling subsides at his first proclamation. It is hard to imagine this 50-something olive-skinned Frenchman inhabiting the lithe, shy being that is Amélie. The director was itching to make this film for years, derailed from beginning it by his first Hollywood project, Alien Resurrection. With Lauvant, stories take shape organically. They collect notes over a long period of time, filling a box with the funny moments that make up every day and a generous sprinkling of details. When the box is full, they pick the best jokes and details. He credits Lauvant with the idea of the Glass Man (the painter who paints the same Renoir over and over) in Amélie.


Reality vs. Aesthetics:  Jeunet wants to continue the tradition of 1940s cinema, where the visual qualities outstrip reality, giving the film a poetic air. Children of Paradise is one such film that he cites as an inspiration for his quirky style. In fact he prefers directors with a strong style; Kusturica, Burton, Welles and Lione and don't get him started on New Wave. He's not a fan. Jeunet's Paris is fantastical, the real Paris, he explains - rains, there's dog shit on the streets. His films are about creating worlds, City of Lost Children perhaps being the greatest example of this. The set is sprawling dark place in a childish imagination, a fractured fairy-tale world inhabited by an unlikely couple, a Thumbelina and a giant pitted against a dream-stealing villain.
In production design, there are often surprises. It's no wonder, his movies require between 80-100 sets! When it came to the boudoir of Amelie (see above) he was shocked to see it red but it soon grew on him and became rather iconic. In the case of the follow-up movie, A Very Long Engagement, which is based in the years after World War One it is more or less grounded in reality. Luckily for Jeunet, the 1920s are an aesthetic goldmine with ample opportunities for building elaborate sets and getting the texture right. Here, war and violence is counterbalanced by romance and beauty lending it that intimitable Jeunet style. At any rate, Jeunet pays fastidious attention to detail spending weeks getting the colour right for each film.

Dominque Pinon
On casting : Jeunet saw over 40 actors to fill a one-line role in Amelie ("ticket please"), many of the professional actors were deeply offended by him being so finnicky over such small a role. Casting is of the highest importance to him, finding the right character is crucial to the feel of his films. Jeunet has a thing for interesting faces and character actors -Dominique Pinon has appeared in all six of his movies. Having character actors allows his films to delve into something other than reality. Again, this is typical of 1940s cinema. Audrey Tautou, star of two of his feature films, appears in a commercial for Chanel No.5 directed by him below.

On film reviews. "The difference between making a film and writing a film review is like the difference between giving birth and farting in the bath," he says amid peals of laughter. Some two years after the unbridled success of Amélie, one critic came out to call the film "fascist" (according to Jeunet). By simply coming out and destroying the biggest French movie of all time this critic became a star. Farting in the bath, clearly. 

On voice overs: It was quite risky starting Amélie with a 20 minute voice-over stating the likes and dislikes of the characters. For Jeunet, voice overs are an integral part of his style,  "It's like hearing a story."

On shooting: As much as he hates promotion (one film requires 800 interviews with the same twenty questions he explains), shooting is like a drug to Jeunet. Just like an exam, you have to be at your peak performance for six month. Although some directors detest watching their own films, seeing only what is wrong with them for this director they bring back good memories. 
This is what I learnt at a talk at VCA, 3rd March 2010 - Varia Karipoff

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