Family & Companions
A self-taught filmmaker with a remarkable visual sense, Jean-Pierre Jeunet started in animation, and along with partner Marc Caro, crafted fantasy-oriented short films that displayed wonderful ingenuity and an impeccable sense of design and atmosphere. These qualities carried over into the pair's first two feature films, "Delicatessen" (1991) and "The City of Lost Children" (1995), which unfolded in fascinating and surreal worlds that were both retrograde and of a future time, peopled by loveable misfits and villainous grotesques. The pair went their separate ways after Jeunet had an unsuccessful experimentation with Hollywood filmmaking via "Alien: Resurrection" (1997), but upon returning to his home country and the degree of creative autonomy to which he was accustomed, Jeunet crafted his most popular effort, the award-winning international favourite, "Amélie" (2001). Subsequent productions displayed Jeunet's now customary visual strengths, supplemented by dark and often unusual humor, with tones alternating between playful, sweet, dangerous and even nightmarish. Sometimes drawing comparisons to Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam, but retaining a truly distinctive aesthetic sense and vision, Jeunet emerged as an important artist whose approach and imagination were best served by projects that allowed him to indulge his creative potential with a minimum of front office interference.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet was born in Roane, Loire, France on Sept. 3, 1953. At the age of nine, Jeunet and a friend used images from his Viewmaster toy supplemented by dialogue to create their own version of a movie. While he had developed a healthy interest in film by that point, a teenaged Jeunet was absolutely mesmerized when he saw Sergio Leone's operatic spaghetti Western "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) and Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (1971). During time away from his mundane job at a telephone company, Jeunet began to craft his own homemade animated shorts. At an animation festival, Jeunet met fellow enthusiast Marc Caro, a graphic artist; they were not entirely in sync in terms of cinematic tastes, but clicked instantly as collaborators. Their partnership began with the shorts "L'évasion" ("The Invasion") (1978) and "Le manège" ("The Carousel") (1980), with the latter winning a César Award for Best Short Subject. In the wake of this success, they tried their hand at live action with "Le bunker de la dernière rafale" ("The Bunker of the Last Gunshots") (1981). Set in a strange, futuristic world, "Le bunker" ran for six years in a Paris theater on a double bill with David Lynch's "Eraserhead" (1977). This was followed by another short, "Pas de repos pour Billy Brakko" ("No Rest for Billy Brakko") (1984), and plans to expand into feature film production. However, it ended up taking several more years for the pair to shore up financing, so Jeunet kept busy directing music videos and commercials, as well as a solo short film, "Things I Like, Things I Don't Like" (1989), which garnered another Best Short Film César.
Funding now in place, the pair fashioned one of the most darkly comic fantasies ever seen. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where food is in short supply, their first full-fledged motion picture, "Delicatessen" (1991), was filled to the brim with bizarre, avant-garde visual invention, monstrous antagonists, and contagious humor arising to a large extent from, of all things, cannibalism. The film was an international success and garnered César Awards for Best First Work and Best Writing. Jeunet and Caro's next effort, "The City of Lost Children" (1995), was even more ambitious and visually astonishing in its presentation of a mad scientist who can invade and even steal people's dreams. This follow-up was also widely seen and Hollywood came knocking, with Jeunet enticed into helming the fourth instalment in the lucrative "Alien" franchise, "Alien: Resurrection" (1997). While Caro initially helped with some of the project's costume and set design, he had no interest in working on productions that were not of his own creation, and the partners went their separate ways. Jeunet's first solo feature turned out to be a dramatic departure for him, working for the first time in English and with someone else's script (though he was given some latitude to make changes in that regard). Working under the close watch of Hollywood executives, "Alien: Resurrection" turned out to be a disappointment for Jeunet, with the studio providing less money and resources than had been originally hoped. Jeunet still managed to pull off some inventive and audacious visuals, but the film was largely rejected by both critics and the public who were unhappy with the idea of the franchise heroine, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) being a clone.
Returning home to France, the director's next project turned out to be a much happier experience. The fairy tale-styled world of "Amélie" (2001) was the polar opposite of the grim and deadly "Alien" universe, centering on an extremely shy young woman who finds purpose in her life when she comes across an old box of keepsakes and decides to track down its owner. Some found the script and Jeunet's approach to the life-affirming material overly sentimental, but there was little criticism of the project's remarkable visuals and the film was a worldwide sensation, making a star of lead actress Audrey Tautou, and claiming both Best Film and Best Director César and Lumiere awards. Jeunet and Tautou reunited for "A Very Long Engagement" (2004), which offered a return to the darker themes present in Jeunet's earlier fantasy collaborations with Caro, via a sobering look at the horrific trench warfare endured by soldiers during World War I. Tautou played a woman looking for her husband, believed dead after having been exiled into "no-man's land" by his own troops. While often cited as overly long, the film effectively balanced its grimmer aspects with genuine moments of romance and humor, and included a supporting role for Jodie Foster, who enjoyed a rare chance to act in French, which she spoke fluently. The picture was the subject of some controversy in France after officials deemed it to be a foreign film, and therefore not eligible for financial aid, because it was produced by a subsidiary of Warner Brothers.
That same company solicited Jeunet to direct "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007), but he passed, likely feeling that being tied to a corporate franchise of this nature would result in another experience like "Alien: Resurrection." While not without its macabre moments - the plot was essentially a peculiar variant on the "revenge movie" formula - Jeunet's "Micmacs" (2009) was a more lightweight confection by comparison, peopled by a gang of loveable, junkyard dwelling eccentrics with singularly strange abilities (including a contortionist and a human cannonball), all manner of weird gadgets, and a protagonist who must somehow function with a bullet lodged in his skull. There were many marvellous images and winning sight gags, but the film's deliberate pacing and extraneous asides bogged the proceedings down and "Micmacs" did not find a large degree of international acceptance.
By John Charles
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
With Marc Caro made first short film, "Le Bunker de la derniere rafale/The Last Blast Bunker"
Teamed with Caro to make short films, music videos and TV commercials
Feature directorial debut, "Delicatessen", co-directed with Caro; billed as Jeunet & Caro
Garnered international acclaim with "The City of Lost Children"
First US feature and first solo directorial effort, "Alien Resurrection"
Co-wrote and directed the whimsical French-language feature "Le Fableux destin d'Amelie Poulain"; released internationally as "Amelie"
Directed Audrey Tautou in "A Very Long Engagement" based on the acclaimed novel by Sebastien Japrisot; also scripted the screenplay