Birthplace: Roanne, Loire, France
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Film Director
Executive summary: Alien: Resurrection
In a rave review of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, one critic wrote, "It takes an extraordinarily talented director to navigate the lines between dark comedy, parody, whimsy and camp without getting bogged down by his own self-conscious artfulness." That reviewer and many fans believe Jeunet is that extraordinarily talented director. Other audiences scratch their heads in confusion, and believe he is not.
Jeunet grew up in the east of France, not far from the battlefields of Verdun. "I was an only child for eleven years but I never got bored. I didn't like people to bother me. I still don't! My father worked for the telephone company. When I was 17 one of my parents' friends came to our house with a Super 8 camera. I understood that's all it took to make films. So I went to work at the phone company to save up money to buy a camera. ... To have gone from working for the phone company at 17 to making a 45-million euro film with Warner Brothers (A Very Long Engagement), you have to be pretty obstinate ..."
In Amélie, a girl overcomes her upbringing in a hysterically dysfunctional family, lives a lonely adult life surrounded by bizarre friends and co-workers, and finally finds love when it seems least likely. The camerawork is reminiscent of a Tex Avery cartoon, but it is almost impossible not to root for the huge-eyed heroine (Audrey Tautou), and unthinkable to imagine that Jeunet had wanted Emily Watson for the role.
His post-apocalyptic Delicatessen, with its syncopated sex scenes, and the disturbingly odd City of Lost Children, which is not really for children, were co-directed by Jeunet and Marc Caro. Jeunet & Caro worked largely as a team for 15 years, creating short subjects and commercials for French TV, in addition to their feature work.
With Caro working only as design supervisor, Jeunet made the fourth Alien movie, Alien: Resurrection, with Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder. Scripted by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon, the movie resurrected not just Ripley but the series, after the cheesy and godawful Alien 3. When an interviewer asked Jeunet about Ryder's rather wooden performance, he shrugged and said he had wanted Angelina Jolie.
Working with Tautou again, and again directing alone, Jeunet made A Very Long Engagement. Covering some of the same political and emotional ground as Kubrick's Paths of Glory, Long Engagement is a jaw-dropping anti-war statement/mystery/love story based on true events from World War I, with Tautou's character crippled by polio, and Jodie Foster speaking flawless French in a supporting role.
Audiences that don't "get" Jeunet probably just want to see the movie they're expecting. Jeunet has never made that movie. They want the standard plotlines they've seen in other war movies or romances, with gently swelling violins on the soundtrack telling them when to have their heartstrings tugged, and trumpets telling them who the good guy is. They want Spielberg or Zemeckis, and that ain't Jeunet.
In a 2004 ruling in French courts, A Very Long Engagement was disqualified from receiving that nation's film subsidies, which would have amounted to millions of dollars. The court decided that much of the film's funding had come from Warner Bros., funneled through a French subsidiary called 2003 Productions, which had been set up solely to qualify for the government's subsidies.
Scornfully, Jeunet pointed out that Oliver Stone's Alexander the Great had qualified for the same French national underwriting. "Stone's movie is French, because his mother is French and he did the post-production in Paris so it's French, no problem. And this one is not French, can you believe it?"
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
A Very Long Engagement (27-Oct-2004)
Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain (25-Apr-2001)
Alien: Resurrection (6-Nov-1997)
The City of Lost Children (17-May-1995)
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