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Great Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

This will be my first entry in a series of profiles of directors I believe have made a serious and consistent contribution of quality movies.  It is an annotated list of movies directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet which I have seen and which are available for purchase in DVD format, at the very least, and encoded properly for viewing in North America.  I have left off some titles mostly due to limited availability or in one case because he is still working on the project.  They are predominantly subtitled from French with the exception of Alien: Resurrection.   Jeunet is one of my favorite directors if for no other reason than when I see a movie he has directed, I have yet to find one I disliked.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a self-taught French director who was born in 1953.  He tends to work very closely to Marc Caro who specializes in the visual effects for which both are so well-known.  When making movies they both have a strong tendency to work with actors like Audrey Tatou, Dominique Pinon, and Ron Perlman, among others.  He has recently been making a more pronounced departure from the independent and foreign film markets where he began his career and into more mainstream movie-making in the French and American markets.  His proven ability to deliver wonderful films seems to have allowed him a free enough creative voice in his work to see that it is not destroyed by executives attempting to make it more marketable.

The List:

(This is presented in no particular order, although I did stick Alien: Resurrection at the end because it doesn’t fit well into the rest of his movies.)

Delicatessen (1991) — In one of his first successes and what I would consider his introduction to the mainstream independent film world, Jeunet brings us a world in which food is very scarce.  In this world with the feel and look of late- and post-war London the characters of the apartment building into which a new fellow has moved all share a strange, surreal secret.Reflecting back on this movie having watched what Jeunet would make later it is very easy to see his budding eyes for visual details like great sets, costuming, make-up and so-on.  This movie, like so many of his others, includes Dominique Pinon as a major actor.  It is difficult to say much about this title without giving away important plot points so suffice it to say that it is well-done and could be said to be what Clerks was to Kevin Smith’s career.

The City of Lost Children (La Cité des enfants perdus, 1995) — The City of Lost Children was the second movie of Jeunet’s which I watched and was one of the first movies I sought out specifically because of the director.  It has since become one of my all-time favorites movies.  It can best be described as an adult fairy tale with vivid imagery of mechanisms reminiscent of Brazil, the ever-present Dominique Pinon, and American actor Ron Perlman.This movie presents us with a surreal world that is specifically not placed within any particular place or any particular time.  The main topic of the movie is that a scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) who lives on a floating laboratory with his family is not able to dream and is experimenting with a variety of methods, most of which are very questionable in their safety and very likely to harm their test subjects.

The scientist kidnaps children from a nearby unnamed city to study them and what makes them able to dream.  One of the last children to be kidnapped in this fashion is Miette (played by Judith Vittet) who has recently befriended a gentle giant named One (Ron Perlman).  The two quickly become friends and when Miette is kidnapped we follow the adventure of One through the fantastic sets and unimaginable worlds to save her from the scientist.

Amelie (Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, 2001) — Amelie was my first introduction into movies from this particular director and is what I believe to be his second strongest film following The City of Lost Children.  For those who haven’t yet seen it, it is highly recommended.  It is very light-hearted and positive, following the life of Amelie Poulin (played by Audrey Tatou), a twenty-something waitress at a Parisian restaurant who decides to become a do-gooder who helps others better their lives and in the process betters her own life as well.Important features of most of Jeunet’s films are included in this work, like the casting of Dominique Pinon as a character, the usage of heavily saturated coloring that gives the film a warm, colorful intensity.  Jeunet is prone to including orphans in his stories and while Amelie is not technically an orphan since her father is still alive, the father’s distance and emotional coldness make him almost dead enough for Amelie to take on a bit of the qualities of an orphan.

Amelie is so striking to me personally in its startlingly dramatic usage of colors and editing. It has been rumored that during production, before any film was shot at a location, it was stripped fully of any trash and cleaned very thoroughly, to present a more beautiful scene which was also more in keeping with Jean-Pierre’s wish for the movie to have a dream-like quality.  It relies heavily upon green, red, and yellow based on the work of a Brazilian painter and most of the stories and anecdotes used to tell Amelie’s story are parts of the personal memories of the director.

A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles, 2004) —  Having found success three years ago with Amelie Jeunet moves to this story of a romantic relationship between Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) and her lover, a soldier fighting in World War I.  A Very Long Engagement tells its story by reflecting upon the lives of five soldiers who have been caught during the war injuring themselves in order to get sent home.  The military finds out and decides to send these troops beyond the front-line to have the German soldiers kill them.

As we hear the stories of each of the five’s lives, we find that one of the five loves Audrey Tatou’s character and is loved back by her.After this incident she is determined to decipher what has actually happened during this fiasco and in doing so helps to craft a multifacted masterpieces of cinematography with wonderfully developed characters, a thick plot, great visual effects and a host of other features that I could point out, but are probably irrelevant in terms of actually enjoying the movie.  It is a heart-warming story that has captured many hearts and had a very good showing in US markets.  I wonder what this might mean for future funding of Jeunet’s films, but without the restrictive processes that were present in Alien: Resurrection.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) — This particular movie is not one of my favorites.  It is technically well-done, but its plot is much more shallow and less well-developed than is typical in the plotlines of Jeunet’s movies.  The visual effects are amazing and captivating which is expected, but definitely adds something to an otherwise lukewarm film.  I think it is very typical of what happens when a very successful foreign-language director who has created great films in the past is pushed into the confines of Hollywood’s studios,  Aside from occasional successes from Miramax, Hollywood is mostly unable as an industry to convert the gems of independent and foreign film into proper investment models while still allowing their creators the creative flexibility necessary for them to create their films.  But enough about that, as for this movie, if you liked any of the Alien movies, you’ll probably like this one and even if you don’t it’s something tolerable.  I’d say Netflix this one rather than buy it, though.Thanks to the following resources for fact-checking and details: Amazon.com, IMDb.com