An object is never just an object in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, every artifact visible in his frames represents a piece of his wondrous
imagination transmuted into its tangible form. Assertively, Jeunet refers to
the collection of elements that compose a film not as a toolbox, but as a toy
box in which every vibrant component serves a purpose to create a greater
treasure. The auteur revels in the enchanting playfulness of his craft and
propels it to new inventive heights with painstaking artistry. Each magical
thought populates his worlds like unexpected
gifts waiting to be continuously discovered with every viewing.
Such meticulously devotion for detail is as prevalent in the physical elements that construct his narrative as in the characters that emanate from
his boundless ingenuity.
Delightfully offbeat and adorned with endearingly eccentric qualities,
they are all idiosyncratic children of his dark preoccupations and uplifting fantasies. From Amélie Poulain and her mission to spread joy, to Louison’s quirky
quest for love in “Delicatessen,” or Mathilde’s unbreakable hope in “A Very
Long Engagement,” and even T.S. Spivet’s desire to use his genius for
practical purposes to bond with his family.
Each one struggling to achieve a triumph much bigger than themselves, while
roaming Jeunet’s sublimely beautiful spaces.
Jeunet is magician who channels
his visionary powers into stylistic marvels and poignant storytelling. Therefore,
when after several years of arduous work he releases a new feature, it becomes
a major event for cinema lovers around the world. Unsurprisingly, when I found out
his most recent film was finally being in released stateside an overwhelming
feeling of excitement took over me. However, it was strange that I had not
heard anything about this release until the week of. It was only when searching
that week’s releases that “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” appeared – two
years after its original release in most countries.
On The Weinstein Company’s
official site there was no mention of the film, neither on their Facebook page,
YouTube channel, or Twitter account. It was as if they had no association with Jeunet’s
film, yet it was well known that the company had acquired the rights early on.
The director had been verbal about the uncertainty of the film’s U.S. release
due to Harvey Weinstein’s desire to create his own cut of the film. Still, I
refused to believe that a film by such an important filmmaker could simply be
quietly dumped into theaters without any effort to promote it.
TWC never replied to any of my
emails, and every PR person and fellow journalist I asked had no idea the film
was even scheduled to open that week on Friday July 31st. After tracking down Jean-Pierre
Jeunet’s French representatives, they pointed me to Gaumont, the French
distributor and sales agent that handled the film. Both mentioned that neither
they nor Mr. Jeunet were even aware of the U.S. release. “As you know, the worst or the
best can happen with TWC. For this release we definitely face the worst,” added
It’s outrageous and insulting to think
that a filmmaker of Jeunet’s caliber still has to endure a distributor’s
pressures to reedit a film or face retribution that directly affects the
release of his work in a major market. Unfortunately, in the spectrum of Harvey
Weinstein’s vengeful antics this has not been the worst. Regardless of whether or
not critics dislike Olivier Dahan‘s “Grace of Monaco,” it’s ludicrous to think that the film
that opened the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, starring Nicole Kidman, and bought
by one of the U.S. most important distributors, could end up premiering on
Lifetime. This paints a scary picture for filmmakers, as it seems that in order
to receive a successful release from certain distributors they must compromise
their artistic integrity.
To discuss this terrible occurrence
and the film itself, Mr. Jeunet graciously agreed to speak with me via Skype from
Europe. Despite the circumstances, it was a dreamlike experience to have the opportunity to chat
with one of cinema’s greatest directors, whose films have filled so many with mesmerizing wonder.
had introduced myself and thanked him for his time, Mr. Jeunet began the interview
inquiring about the release of his latest film “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,” which is ironically his most American work to date and has been blatantly disowned by its U.S.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Have you seen the film?
Aguilar: Yes, I’ve seen it twice now.
Jeunet: Did you see it in 3D?
Aguilar: Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to see it on the big
screen and in 3D
Jeunet: Where did you see it?
I went to the only theater in L.A. playing the film in 3D, the Downtown
Jeunet: How many theaters in L.A. are
playing “T.S. Spivet”? Is it only playing in one theater?
Aguilar: I think about 4 or 5 theaters in total, but only one
of those played it in 3D.
Jeunet: But there was no
advertisement, no commercials, no promotion, no nothing, right? So I suppose
the theaters were empty.
Yes, sadly there were only a few people there. I’m not sure if you are aware
but the U.S trailer for the film came out on Thursday July 30th, just a day
before the release. Nobody knew about the release as there were no press
screening, a press release, or even any mention of the film in The Weinstein Company’s
website. I found out the film was opening by chance. TWC was not replying to
any press inquiries related to your film. Were you aware of any of this?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Absolutely not.
We learned about this by chance because they have a contract with Netflix. The
contract says that you have to release the film in 100 theaters, no more and no
less. This is the only reason they released the film, to keep that contract and
keep a good relationship with Netflix. It’s also probably because Harvey
Weinstein is still pissed off because I refused to reedit my film. “T.S.
Spivet” is a fake American movie because it’s a movie produced in Europe
and Canada, so I have the final cut. I always choose this specifically to
avoid this kind of problem, but with Mr. Weinstein you never avoid this kind of
problem, of course [Laughs]. You know, we had exactly the same story with
“Delicatessen,” a long time a go. With “Amelie” he wanted
me to reedit it, but because it was a success he decided to release the film in
the same version as Europe. He wanted Caro and me to reedit
“Delicatessen” but we said, “OK. We have another idea for a
modification, you cut our names out of the credits,” so they never cut
“Delicatessen” either. However, “Delicatessen” only became a
success on video because it had a very bad theatrical release. But this
release of “T.S. Spivet” is just a caricature. [Laughs].
Aguilar: This is your most American film, which could have had a better chance with audiences here in the U.S. It’s in English and you
have big names like Helena Bonham Carter and Judy Davis. It’s a shame the release took so long and was handled like this.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It was an American movie. Kyle Catlett, the kid,
is from New Jersey. He is an American kid. It’s a pity because this is my only
American movie and it was not distributed in the U.S. Now it’s being
distributed but not under good conditions. It’s also a pity because when Harvey
Weinstein signed the deal he said, “We will do something even better than with
‘Amelie'” and when he learned I didn’t want to modify the film he gave up
because he wanted to reedit the film. He needs that to
survive. He is like a dog who needs to pee on a tree.
Aguilar: What did he want you to cut or modify?
Was it about the darker undertones in the film?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: We don’t know! It’s a question of
principle. He doesn’t even know it himself probably. He needs to give the film
to an American editor and say, “Do something!” There is not a
specific problem, he just needs to reedit the film. He does that with every
movie except “The Artist.” You know why? Michel Hazanavicius told me
it was because the score was part of the entire film and matched the entire film. If Harvey Weinstein had reedited the film he would have had to rerecord the whole score one
more time and it would have been very expensive. So he didn’t reedit the film
[Laughs]. It was very clever of Hazanavicius in fact.
Aguilar: Were you angry that the film wasn’t
getting released in the U.S. for so long?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I was very sad, not angry, but very sad.
Now it’s been two years and I accept it. You can never deal with Mr. Weinstein.
Of course I didn’t do that, it was Gaumont the French distributor. Other
U.S. distributors wanted “T.S. Spivet” and when they told me that
Weinstein wanted it I told them, “Be careful, because we know him and he
will want to reedit.” They said, “No, no, he will respect your film.
He knows that. He won’t touch a frame.” Of course, he cheats all the time.
Aguilar: Now tell me about the film. I know it’s
been two years, so hopefully you remember the details. But since you never got the chance to do
any U.S. press for the films, I’m sure people want to know more. How did you become aware
of the book? It feels like a perfect match. It’s like if the book was written
exactly for your sensibilities.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I have a reader. He read the book and
said it was for me. I was in Australia shooting some commercials and he send me
the book and told me, “Read as soon as as possible because it’s a book
for you.” Maybe it was a book too much for me because it’s very close to
my own preoccupations. I knew it wasn’t going to be too easy because the main character is a
kid and it’s not a film for kids. That’s probably the reason it wasn’t a huge
success everywhere. It’s always the same story with films with kids, like the Stephen Daldry movie,”Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” or the Terry Gilliam‘s movie, “Time Bandits.” Every time that you have the main character be a kid it’s not so
Aguilar: I feel there’s a connection between
T.S. Spivet and Amelie Poulain. They both have this broken relationship with their parents
after a tragic event and they are both incredibly creative. Is that something that drew you into the book?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah. You know, when I met Reif Larsen,
the author of the novel, he told me, “When I saw ‘Amelie’ I had the
feeling that someone had scratched my head.” We have he same feelings, we use
the same references, and we are now very close. He is kind of like a son to me.
Aguilar: Do you feel like you gravitate to these type of characters and stories whether you are writing them or adapting them?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It’s very difficult to find a story for
a feature because you are going to spend 3 or 4 years of your life on it. In some ways
the story of T.S is always the same story of all my films. It’s a story of a
kid fighting against a monster. That’s the theme of all my films. But
this one was an opportunity to make something different for me because it was
in English and with big American landscapes. It was also the opportunity to shoot
in 3D because T.S. Spivet’s objects or creations were an opportunity to
create something original in 3D, so I was very happy to make this adaptation.
Aguilar: Tell me about working in 3D. It
feels like today films use it in a gratuitous way or simply for commercial purposes, but in “T.S. Spivet” there is a specific
reason for its use and it’s always motivated by the story.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Absolutely, it was part of the concept from the
beginning. During the writing and during the storyboard process I was thinking
about 3D. It wasn’t just a commercial reason because it’s complicated, especially
when you are picky. You spend a lot of time on it and you lose some time on set,
you lose some time during the post-production to fix every detail to avoid, for example, anything that could cause
headaches. We made something, I would say, almost perfect technically, although
it’s never perfect but it’s not bad. We had the stereographer Demetri Portelli, he worked on “Hugo,” the Scorsese movie.
Aguilar: So you got the best of the best in terms of 3D
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes, and we got every award related to 3D. We got three or four awards. One from the Advance Imaging Society, one from Camerimage, one Lumiere Award, and we got the French César for the Cinematography. We got a lot of awards for both the cinematography and the use of 3D.
Aguilar: For me the film is about a
certain American duality, the one driven by intellectual pursuits, modernity, and invention, and the other that’s more traditional, rural, and almost mythical. T.S.’s father is a
cowboy and his mother is a scientist, but he is in between these two realities. .
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes. In someways I am T.S. Spivet because, like him, I love to draw sketches and to create some inventions. Sometimes I win an award like he does. I don’t take the train – I’m afraid of
trains – but I take an airplane to get my award and, like T.S.,
I like to go back to my ranch to draw sketches because I love doing that. I’m a
lot like T.S. Spivet, but I’m not a genius.
Aguilar: It’s also a film about American culture and
some of its negative aspects. There is evidently a certain commentary about the culture of guns in this country, but there is also the talk show sequence, which is very much about how the media seeks conflict and exploits emotions as an spectacle.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: The guns especially are very American,
but I didn’t think about that when I made the film. But then, when you have an
accident or a event involving guns happening in the U.S. almost every week, I
realized I was speaking about that. The TV aspect is not only in the U.S.,
it’s everywhere, even in France now. They are interested in controversy,
scandal, polemic. That’s everywhere now.
Aguilar: Tell about the production design, which
is always perfect in your films. Every frame in every film you make is packed
with so many whimsical details.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I love that. I love to spend a lot of
time to prepare and to create some objects just for the film. Now all these things
are in my office in Paris. I have a collection of objects from all my
films. I love details and I love to invent and be picky with everything. It’s a
kind of toy box. Orson Welles spoke about his electric train. It’s kind of like a Meccano set in which everything is about making the most
beautiful film you can. In this box you have the costumes, the dialogue, the
music, the production design, you have everything, and the game is to use
everything to build this toy.
Aguilar: Regarding “T.S. Spivet,” were you concerned about the fact that one of the main plot points in the story is a young boy’s death? Did you worry about how this would be perceived by the audience?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: That was something in the book that I
knew from the beginning wouldn’t be easy. Of course, when you speak about the death of a kid
it’s not easy, especially for kids. But I accepted that because I was
very moved by the speech at the end of the novel. That was a big moment to
shoot with Kyle Catlett.
Aguilar: Dominique Pinon is in this film as in every one of your films. You always find a great role to include him.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: He can speak like an American because he
was a student in the U.S, so I didn’t see any reason not to include Dominique Pinon because he surprises me every time. This time it was very difficult
because he only had two days and he came from Paris to do it. We shot for two
nights and he came back for the premiere of the film in Paris tight before his
theater play. Just in case Ron Perlman was ready to replace Dominique Pinon.
Aguilar: Kyle Catlett is incredibly charming in the film. How did you find the ideal young actor to play T.S. Spivet?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It’s always the same story. You see
thousands of kids and suddenly you have a surprise in front of you, by Skype now of course. My first reaction was, “He is too small, too little, too
young. He is not T.S. Spivet” But when you have a kid who is a world
champion in martial arts, he speaks five languages, and who is able to cry on
command, you think, ” Oh my God, this is an interesting kid. I have to
meet him!” Little by little he became T.S. Spivet
Aguilar: Can you tell me about shooting the Amazon TV
pilot, “Casanova.”? I can’t wait to see what you did with this story.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes. It’s finished. They are be close to
releasing it on Amazon. If I understand the rules of the game, if the spectators are happy with it they vote on the internet and say, “We want to see
the first season of the series.” If they don’t say that it will be
dead [Laughs]. Those are the rules of the game with Amazon, they are used to
doing that. It’s strange because they spent $10 million dollars to make
something beautiful, and it’s a project that makes me think about “Barry
Lyndon” or “Dangerous Liaisons.” I shot it like if it was a
feature, thinking about the details, the costumes, and it was with my usual
crew, almost everybody, and we made something beautiful. The director of
photography is Pierre Gill, who was in charge of Second Unit in “T.S Spivet.”
Aguilar: Diego Luna is the protagonist of “Casanova,” and this is your first time working with him. How did that go?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I had a great relationship with him. We
became friends. Every night we were watching soccer together – the Champions
League. He is a great actor and a good guy.
Aguilar: Are you working on a new feature film
at all or are you waiting for the right project?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I was expecting an idea from you
Aguilar: You’ve worked in French and English, now
you need to make a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film in Spanish.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Sure [Laughs]. I’m looking for something but it’s
very difficult because I would like to surprise myself. I always try to find
something new and it’s not so easy.
Aguilar: What’s your take on the current state
of cinema? TV is becoming more important and cinema is changing rapidly.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: There are so many movies now. When you
want to watch a movie on VOD you have some many films to chose from, it’s crazy.
Now it’s so difficult to make something that will endure like
“Delicatessen” or “Amelie.” Now it’s very
difficult because you have so many films. But I continue to think that I have to work
just for my pleasure, which is very selfish in fact.
Aguilar: After so many years making films and facing all the struggles it involves, why are you still in love with cinema?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It’s a pleasure to make. I also make
something else just for the pleasure of it, and you can find it on my official
site, which is English as well. In the
news section you will find some pictures of animals I make with stuff found in
nature. My wife finds some sticks, wood, or leaves, and I make animals out of them and
it’s the same process. It’s a pleasure to make. Except with my animals I don’t
need financiers, I don’t need money, I don’t need a producer, and I don’t need
Harvey Weinstein to kill it. It’s just a pleasure to make.
Aguilar: It’s so unfortunate that the “T.S. Spivet” didn’t get the released it deserved becasue of someone’s control issues
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It’s a question of honor for him. He
wants to reedit. He needs to reedit.
Aguilar: At least those lucky enough to see it
will see your version. You’ve kept your creative integrity.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Exactly. People will see it on Netflix
maybe, in 2D unfortunately, but it will be my film. It won’t be Harvey Weinstein’s
“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” is still playing in select theaters around the country.