Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of France’s most revered directors. His 2001 modern classic, Amelie, is the most successful French-language film of all time, raking in over £112 million at the worldwide box office. Dalliances into Hollywood have been less successful, with 1997’s Alien Resurrection receiving a critical mauling and an attempt to adapt Yann Martel’s Life of Pi abandoned at the eleventh hour.
Now Jeunet is back where he belongs, in France. And his extraordinary imagination has created a new set of highly original characters for his latest film, Micmacs. In it, Dany Boon is a hapless slacker who enlists a bunch of quirky underdogs to help him defeat the weapons manufacturers responsible for his father’s death. RT brings you five facts about Jeunet’s latest creation (and, yes, we do explain that baffling title…)
Fact #1: The Unlikely Inspiration is Disney Meets Sergio Leone
“You know Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” exclaims Jean-Pierre Jeunet, waving his arms around with excitement. “Well, I wanted to create something funny and imaginative like that: a stupid band of seven people. And also I wanted a story of revenge because I love Once Upon a Time in the West so much.
“I put everything I have into this film,” laughs Jeunet. “There are no limits — it’s all of my influences at once. Guillaume Laurant, my writing partner, and I note down everything we hear. Then, when we write a script, we open the box of details and use them. Only when the box is packed full of ideas to we start to write. The principle of the Walt Disney Company is to have one idea per shot and I try to do that too.”
Continue onto the next page as Jeunet talks about his star Dany Boon, working in Hollywood and Harry Potter.
Fact #2: Jeunet Loves Dany Boon (Despite a Touch of Friendly Rivalry…)
“Dany has a childlike spirit,” explains Jeunet of his leading man. “He’s so funny, but he can also be very emotional. This role wasn’t easy because he plays a character with a bullet lodged in his brain. Sometimes he has problems with the bullet and has to slap himself on the head. Of course, it’s not easy to play that without looking ridiculous, but he can. Also, the film mixes slapstick comedy with the serious issue of weapon sellers and Dany can pull that off. Despite his huge success, he is still very polite and funny and never late. He doesn’t act like a star.”
As a successful director in his own right, however, Boon did bring out Jeunet’s competitive side. “Dany got 21 million admissions for his film Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis in France, can you believe it? I am a little bit jealous. Amelie had only eight and half million admissions,” Jeunet mock-frowns before raising an eyebrow. “But, in the rest of the world, Amelie is still the biggest success!”
Fact #3: Fans Should Savour Micmacs, As His Next Film Won’t Be Any Time Soon
It has been six years since Jeunet’s last film, the Oscar-nominated A Very Long Engagement. Admirable as it is to take his time, refusing to churn out films on demand, what on earth is taking so long? “I need time to find the right idea,” he protests. “Right now I am reading a lot of books because I would like to make another adaptation. It’s very difficult to find the right concept because I’m going to spend three years working on it. And I write the script myself, which is a big, big deal. Then you have to find the money, which is always a long process. It’s also a long process to make the film because I am very picky and I pay attention to every detail.” It’s worth it in the end though, right?
Fact #4: After Working in Hollywood, Jeunet is Glad to be Back in France
“The main difference between France and Hollywood is freedom,” he explains. “In Hollywood, I was pretty free towards the end but I had to fight. It was a struggle every day to convince people that my edit was right. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t work.”
1997’s Alien Resurrection is the only film that Jeunet has completed in Hollywood. He now dismisses it as “for teenagers with acne,” and the critical response was mixed, to say the least. “I try to never read reviews,” he says now. “Even if it’s a good review, it’s bad for you because we are so sensitive. So I prefer to avoid reading them. I ask people, ‘is it good?’ and that’s enough for me.”
Another bad experience was the time he spent in development hell on the troubled Life of Pi, which never began shooting. “I lost two years on that film,” he says of the project, which is now in pre-production again with Ang Lee at the helm. “So it is not about the money.”
Money certainly wasn’t a consideration for Jeunet when he turned down the chance to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “It was a great honour to be asked,” he admits. “But I like to create a world and, for Harry Potter, everything was ready: the production design, the set, the costumes, the casting. And the actors know their characters by heart, much more than I could. So I had the courage to say no.”
Fact #5: But He Doesn’t Aim to Please
From the infuriatingly inaccessible title (the full version of which, Micmacs a tire-larigot, roughly translates as “loads of dodgy dealings”) to the ludicrous premise, Jeunet refuses to pander to what international audiences might want.
“I do hold test screenings,” he concedes. “But, if some people say they don’t like a scene that I love, I just say, ‘I don’t care!’ I won’t cut the scene.”
This stubbornness may be another reason why the nonconformist director prefers to work on his home turf. “In Hollywood I would have had to cut the scene because the audience is king,” he admits. “In France, I have more freedom.”
Micmacs is released in the UK on Friday 26 February,