Jean-Pierre Jeunet Biography


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Birth Name: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Born: 1955
Birth Place: France


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