Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Introducing the Jeunet retrospective

It’s hard to believe, for a man with just six feature length films to his name, that Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been directing for thirty years.

Longer actually. Pretty much since he was a kid. In a recent interview with The Times, he recalled: “I started making films when I was eight or nine. I hadn’t seen many films, obviously. I remember that the first real shock was ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, which I saw when I was seven. It blew my mind. So I started doing things. Little puppet theatres. I had one of those 3-D viewer things, a View-Master, and I had a tiny projector so I could project the slides. I changed the order of the images, wrote dialogue for them, and like that I was making films.”

In the late 70s, Jeunet met writer and animator Marc Caro. Their first collaboration, the animated short ‘L’évasion’, was in 1978. During the next decade, they made three more shorts together: ‘Le manège’, ‘The Bunker of the Last Gunshots’ and ‘Pas de repos pour Billy Brakko’. The decade ended with Jeunet’s first solo outing, ‘Foutaises’ – winner of a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for best short film.

In a hiatus that would become emblematic of Jeunet’s less-than-prolific output as a feature-film director, five years passed between ‘Billy Brakko’ and ‘Foutaisies’. By the early 90s, with Jeunet and Caro’s creative partnership established for over a decade, they made their first full-length movie, ‘Delicatessen’ (1991). Original, darkly comic and dazzlingly inventive, it was a worldwide success as well as picking up a few more Césars.

They followed it up, four years later, with ‘The City of Lost Children’ (1995). It would be the last Jeunet et Caro production, although Caro worked as design supervisor on Jeunet’s next film, ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997). Caro would go on to make his solo directorial debut in 2008 with the psychological sci-fi thriller ‘Dante 01’.

Anticipation of ‘Alien Resurrection’ was high, but between Joss Whedon’s re-interpretative script and Jeunet’s offbeat direction many fans of Ridley Scott’s original and James Cameron’s gung-ho sequel were left bemused. Another four years passed until Jeunet gave the world what is arguably his masterpiece: ‘Amelie’ (2001). He reteamed with leading lady Audrey Tautou for the romantic drama ‘A Very Long Engagement’ (2004).

For two years, Jeunet worked on pre-production of an adaptation of Yan Martel’s critically acclaimed and immensely popular ‘Life of Pi’. Budgetary considerations sunk the project and, keen just to get behind the camera again after so much wasted time, Jeunet co-wrote and directed the black comedy ‘Micmacs a Tire-Larigot’, released in the UK and US as simply ‘Micmacs’ – the play on words (both a place name and a colloquialism that roughly means “a lot of dodgy deals”) being ineffably lost in translation.

The Times interview that I quoted earlier ends with Jeunet musing on his next project. “Something more serious, less childlike, a bit more adult,” he says. “I want a change. One of my friends … came out with something that really struck me. He was talking about Scorsese, and he said, ‘When he was young he made his films, and now he’s making cinema.’ It’s a different level. I think I’ve done my films. Now I want to do my cinema.”

This from the man who made ‘Delicatessen’, ‘Amelie’ and ‘A Very Long Engagement’. If his films are this good, I can’t wait for him to take it to that next level.


The Film Connoisseur said...

I love every single one of his films. City of Lost Children and Delicatessen seem to co-exist in the same universe. The both feel like something Terry Gilliam would direct, only a lot more french, and the comedy elements on these films, so subtle, so intelligent.

Amelie is a film many hold close to their hearts, I mean, its such a sad yet feel good movie, you cant help but do good to others after watching it. I love that scene were Amelie simply wants to do good things for people, yet its sad because she is so alone. I love the look of the whole thing.

It was kind of sad to see these two directors depart, but I guess its only natural for each to want to do their own thing, though Caro seems to be the one having the most trouble getting his films off the ground. STill, Dante 01 though a troubled production ended up being a surprisingly enjoyable film for me, the look, the themes....loved it. And it wasn't even finished properly (due to production woes) and I still loved it!

Looking forward to your retrospective Neil!

Bryce Wilson said...

Off to a great start.

BTW: Put you up for the Versatile Blogger Award. Huzzah!

PS. Was thinking of doing Foutaisses for my contribution to the Jeunet retrospective. What would be a good day?

Aaron said...

I'm a big fan of his films and he's the director who I voted for (almost every time I visited your page) when you had your polls up. I might do a review of A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT since I already reviewed his other movies on my old blog, but we'll see. At the very least I'll watch it again! Looking forward to the rest of the Jeunet retrospective and can't wait to hear your thoughts on his films, Neil!

Neil Fulwood said...

Francisco - I completely agree with you. I've just watched 'Delicatessen' and 'City of Lost Children' back to back and you can easily imagine that the coastal town where the opening scenes of 'City' take place is just a few miles away from the apartment block in 'Delicatessen'. Jeunet and Caro had such a fantastic talent for world-building.

Bryce - I'm not sure whether to do a double-bill review of 'Foutaises' tonight with 'Bunker of the Last Gunshots' or leave it till tomorrow. Whenever you want to post a review, just let me know and I'll link to it.

Aaron - I'd be interested in your take on 'A Very Long Engagement'. Probably Jeunet's most complex and ambitious film so far.

Thanks for commenting, guys.

J.D. said...

Great retro on Jeunet. I'm not too well-versed on his films even though I've seen a few of 'em so I'm anticipating you going through his entire career. Bring it on!

Neil Fulwood said...

J.D. - yep, I'm going through his whole career (with the exception of about three early short films that I've been unable to track down). Having said that, his output hasn't exactly been prolific. I'll be looking at his first live action short 'The Bunker of the Last Gunshots', his Cesar-winning short film 'Foutaises', and his grand total of six feature films. Which means I'll probably have this project wrapped up by the end of the month!