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.