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.
Going back to your wish to do something else in English. You had that thing with Harry Potter, and you did the fourth Alien film. Would you say Alien Resurrection was a satisfying experience for you?
Yes, yes. I read a lot of times that it was a nightmare, because a lot of people would like it to have been a nightmare. It wasn’t the case.
Were you worried when you started on the film, given what happened to David Fincher on the previous installment?
Yeah. I spoke with him and he said, “Escape!”
How did Fox convince you then?
Well I was just curious, and I was sure that I would be fired after three weeks. [Laughs] Sometimes people ask you to do something and sometimes it’s very silly.
Was there any tension between what your personal style is and what the studio wanted?
The pressure was to save money. They want to save money first. It’s a strange game because they want the best film that you can make and on the other hand they want the cheapest film they can get.
That would have been a bigger budget than Amelie or Micmacs though.
Oh yes, of course.
So do you find it more restrictive working on a bigger budget and for a studio?
No, I don’t care. I’ve made some commercials and I’m used to working with a lot of money. I am very respectful with the money because I am from the generation after the war; I was taught to turn off the light in my room or finish my plate of food.
Who would you like to work with then — or what kind of film would you like to do next?
Really, I don’t know. Now, I would like to make an adaptation. I don’t feel like writing another story. I will write the adaptation, but from the book. I am looking for a very good book. Like A Very Long Engagement; about the war, or fables, something… I don’t know. When I don’t do promotion I read one book per day.
Would you ever make an animated film?
No… well, at the beginning of my career I made animated films and I know what is involved. Now, everybody wants to make animation and it drives me crazy. For example, the Fantastic Mr. Fox: when I read that [Wes Anderson] directed the film by email, I’m sorry, but he’s a crook. You don’t make a film by email because it’s a long work and you have to be present every step of the way.
Where can we find your early animations? Are they released?
Oh… I am not very proud of them. [Laughs]
Would you consider shooting a film in 3D?
Yes. I could have made Micmacs in 3D but we didn’t talk about it at the start. Now I regret it. But it depends on the subject. If it’s a couple f–king in the kitchen then you don’t need it… and often I feel like making that story.
What about revisiting one of your films, like doing a sequel to The City of Lost Children, for example?
A sequel? No, I don’t think so. Now the girl is an adult! Maybe Amelie in 20 years. There is a joke in Micmacs about Delicatessen but in the first time I wanted to make a joke with Amelie. I wanted Audrey [Tautou] with two babies crying, and Mathieu Kassovitz asleep on the couch watching a football game, but Audrey was shooting Coco Chanel and didn’t want to. She refused. Too bad for me. [Laughs]
If you’re ever going to make a sequel — City of Lost Children.
You would like to see that?
I love that film.
That’s funny because when we released the film it was very tough for us. In Cannes film festival.
Because of Delicatessen?
In France they love when you have a success and then they love to kill you after.