A director, best known for his fantastical visual style as seen in films like Amelie, The City of Lost Children, and Delicatessen.

Introduction and Early Career
Jean-Pierre Jeunet was born in Roanne, France in 1955. He was not formally trained, and he started as a director by shooting television commercials, music videos and short films. His career really began with two animated short films which he directed with his good friend Marc Caro: L'Evasion (The Escape) and Le Manège (The Merry-Go-Round). Future short films showed a progression in his style and he began to get noticed on the film festival circuit. In 1985, his short film Pas de repos pour Billy Brakko received many awards on the circuit. During this time, Jeunet also worked as a film and animation critic for magazines (apparently, he made some humourous remarks about Ridley Scott's Alien for one of these mags, which is ironic considering his later involvement in the Alien series).

He is very interested in set design and he expends a great deal of effort on preparation for all of his films. He meticulously storyboards everything so that his film won't run overly long (he hates the idea of making a three-hour movie and having to chop it down to two hours - "What a waste!" he says). He is also excellent at choreographing camera movement, but recognizes when doing so will spoil the moment.

When asked what films influenced him, he mentioned two: Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (which affected him so strongly that he didn't speak for days and his parents thought he was sick). Jeunet was also a passionate follower of comics and cartoons, as his early career suggests.

Feature Films
Jeunet established himself as a filmmaker and gained international acclaim with Delicatessen, his 1991 film about a post-apocalyptic cannibalistic landlord of an apartment building. Jeunet collaborated with his long time friend Marc Caro, contributing to both the script and the direction of the film. The two friends split the duties, with Jeunet handling the actors and Caro managing the artistic elements. The film received countless awards on the international film circuit, including awards for Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Costumes, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best First Film, among many other best film awards...

Jeunet and Caro capitalized on their success by making La Cité des Enfants Perdus (The City of Lost Children), a film they had been working on (intermittently) for nearly ten years. The duo continued to split their work along the same lines, while assembling an impressive list of international collaborators, including American actor Ron Perlman, Chilean-born actor Daniel Emilfork, Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji (who was also part of the crew for Delicatessen), American-Italian composer Angelo Badalamenti (who is a long time collaborator with David Lynch) and French fashion-designer Jean Paul Gaultier. If I may digress a bit, TLA Video's Film and Video Guide has a fantastic description of the film:
Set in and around an eerie, oddly futuristic yet late 19th-century waterfront (it's a setting seemingly inspired by Samuel Beckett and Fritz Lang), the film follows a hulking but pea-brained circus strongman (Perlman) known only as "One" who is on a desperate search to find his ward, Little Brother, who was abducted by a freakish, quasi-religious group of cyclopes. Along the way, he joins forces with a group of street urchins who steal for a Fagin-esque Siamese twin. The search ultimately leads to a sea-platform/laboratory where Krank, the genetically created orphan of a mad scientist, lords over his siblings (including six identical twins, a female dwarf and a talking brain in a box) and conducts diabolical dream experiments.
Come on! Who wouldn't like a movie like that? Seriously, the film opened to critical acclaim and was a Cannes Film Festival Official Selection and it was nominated by the Independent Spirit Awards for best foreign film. He apparently didn't enjoy the Canne Film Festival, though: "it was not totally negative but a little cold. When you open the Festival with a French movie, you feel like a rabbit on the opening day of hunting season -- that's the impression we got." The film's modern fairy-tale feel was almost suitable for children, but some felt it was too dark. In any case, the film was successful enough to garner Hollywood's attention.

Hollywood Beckons
So, in 1997, Jeunet jumped at the opportunity to helm the fourth entry in the Alien series, titled Alien: Resurrection. He left France, but he brought a small legion of loyal French crewmen with him, including Marc Caro (who came only as a design supervisor) and actors Dominique Pinon (who has made appearances in all of Jeunet's feature films) and Ron Perlman. Reaction to Alien: Resurrection was mixed among the fans of the series and only achieved a moderate degree of box office success (thanks mostly to the international market). Most of the criticism lies in the plot (or perhaps the lack thereof), while most of the praise went to Jeunet's direction or visual style.

He felt that had learned much from working in the US, but after he completed Alien: Resurrection, he returned to France to do a small film "...something cheap and personal." He drew on a lot of different details and observations he had written about at different points during his life (and he also recycled some things he'd already done in his short films). The end result was Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. Amelie was the first film he had done outside a soundstage, which lead to some frustration because of Jeunet's perfectionism. He did a lot of scouting and had to put up with bad weather and mean Frenchmen (he tells an amusing anecdote about one man who was so mean that he parked in front of camera specifically to annoy the crew). He sought to portray a cleaner, less populated version of Paris; he changed background posters, cleaned sets, and avoided cars as much as possible. "I tried to control everything. I am a control freak!" Which, naturally, lead to some frustration.

After the film, he did a few test screenings. He says it's one of the things he learned from working in the US, where they do it all the time. However, he did the screenings himself, and he still had the final cut. The reactions to the screenings were so positive that he seriously thought something was wrong with the audience - he thought the audience must have just been so flattered by the invitation that they felt obliged to give it good reviews...

Ironically, Amelie was rejected by Cannes film festival - in an interview he laughs about it and says he doesn't really care and that he was even somewhat relieved because of the negative experience he had with City of Lost Children at Cannes. Giles Jacob from Cannes told him that "the film was uninteresting." So he decided not to worry about it and just released the film to the public. All the journalists loved it, and when the Cannes Festival happened, there was a major controversy. The journalists wanted to know why the film wasn't shown, and everyone was making fun of Giles Jacob for his rejection of the already successful film. When the journalists wrote reviews, there were 450 positive to rave reviews and 6 negative ones. Jeunet was worried that the audience wouldn't like it so much, but the film was a huge success and, thanks in part to word of mouth, the film enjoyed a lengthy stay among the top films. The film was also a great success internationally and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. There was even a private screening for French president Jacques Chirac, who apparently loved the film.

The Future
What's next for Jean Pierre Jeunet? When asked, a mischievous smile dances across his face: "Yes, I Know... but... I won't tell you." DyRE informs me that, according to well placed ninja monkey spies, his next project will be called "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles" (French for "A Very Long Engagement"), based on a book of the same name by Sebastien Japrisot.

  • L'Évasion (1978 - Short Film), aka The Escape
  • Le Manège (1980 - Short Film), aka The Merry-Go-Round
  • Le Bunker de la dernière rafale (1981 - Short Film), aka The Bunker of the Last Gunshots
  • Pas de repos pour Billy Brakko (1984 - Short Film), aka No rest for Billy Brakko*
  • Foutaises (1989 - Short Film)
  • Delicatessen (1991)
  • La Cité des enfants perdus (1995), aka The City of Lost Children
  • Alien: Resurrection (1997)
  • Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001), aka Amelie or Amelie from Montmartre
* I had to use the babelfish translation for this title, as I couldn't find an English version anywere else. If this is wrong, feel free to msg me and let me know.

TLA Video's Film and Video Guide (1998-1999) edited by David Bleiler
The Amelie DVD was an invaluable resource for this writeup, as it contains many extras and interviews with Jeunet.
DyRE's Ninja Monkey Spies

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