Jean-Pierre Jeunet is going back to his roots. While visiting Los Angeles for a retrospective of several of his films at the American Cinematheque and the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the idiosyncratic French director shared details of his plans to make a mockumentary about the production of his beloved 2001 romantic comedy “Amelie” in anticipation of the movie’s 20th anniversary.
Jeunet, whose last completed feature was 2013’s “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,” also revealed that he was in the early stages of developing a sci-fi animated feature and a futuristic comedy.
“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” received a botched released in the U.S. in 2015 after distributor Harvey Weinstein decided to shelve it as retaliation for the director’s refusal to make cuts.
Since then, Jeunet has been trying to get a project off the ground with mostly discouraging results. “I’ve been fighting to make a film for four years now because the world is so different now,” he said in an interview with IndieWire before a Q&A for the retrospective’s sold-out screening of “Amelie,” his most successful project to date. “My films are quirky, and it’s not a good time for quirky movies, because everybody wants to make profit without risk.”
Though he noted that making movies such as his 1991 debut “Delicatessen” and “Amelie” was difficult at their respective times, it was still possible then to find investors who would take chances. “Now it’s much more difficult,” he said.
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Still, there are plenty of stories he wants to tell. Currently, his focus is writing that “Amelie” mockumentary timed for the film’s upcoming milestone. “I’m writing a fake documentary about the shooting of ‘Amelie,’ like the Peter Jackson movie about the beginning of cinema [‘Forgotten Silver’],” he said. “It’ll be just stupidity, something very funny, very cheap to make, I hope.”
The director said he had been approached multiple times about developing “Amelie” as a series and he has always refused. “It’s a bad idea,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the same actress, it would be cheap because it wouldn’t have the same budget, and in Paris now it’s so difficult to shoot because the are constructions sites everywhere, so Paris is ugly now. So no, I don’t want to make a sequel or even a series, I just want to make the fake documentary with every document declassified.”
He added that he regretted selling the musical rights to “Amelie,” which opened on Broadway in March 2017 and closed just two months later. Jeunet claimed he never saw the production when it toured the U.S., but knew it would turn out bad because of the music they were using. “It was a disaster,” he said.
On the bright side, the decision allowed him to support a good cause. “I accepted just for the money to help some kids through an association that provides heart surgeries,” he said. “That was the only reason I accepted, because I hate musicals. At the end I think we saved three kids.” There is no title or a full screenplay for the “Amelie” mockumentary yet, but Jeunet and his writing partner on the original film, Guillaume Laurant, are now putting their ideas together.
For several years now, Laurant and Jeunet have also been working on new feature about sensuality. “Maybe it will be a series,” Jeunet said. “It’s difficult because it’s about sex, thank you Harvey Weinstein one more time. It’s a bad time for this kind of subject, of course.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Jeunet also has plans to develop an animated feature. Back in 2016, he released a three-minute stop-motion short titled “Deux escargots s’en vont,” which he co-directed with Romain Segaud, who created the animation in “Micmacs.” Eager to work with his hands, Jeunet fabricated peculiar-looking figures of animals himself and then had them recite a poem by Jacques Prévert in the voices of two dozen actors, including Dominique Pinon and Audrey Tautou.
Following that experience, Jeunet said he plans to direct an animated film penned by Laurent Witz, who wrote and co-directed the Oscar-winning animated short “Mr. Hublot.” Although he couldn’t share many details, the director said the premise of the story was science fiction.
In recent years, Jeunet has been impressed by films such as Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which he considers a “masterpiece,” but added that he doesn’t go to theaters often.
“I hate when you have some young people watching their [cell phone] screen in the theater. It’s terrible,” he said. “So I have a good screening room at home.” But when it comes to how he envisions his own projects, the big screen is still the goal. “Ideally, I would prefer to continue to make films for the theater than something to be seen on an iPad,” he said. “It’s frustrating when you pay so much attention to the quality of the picture to think it’ll be in a small screen.”
Jeunet’s last foray into episodic content for streaming didn’t pan out. His Amazon-produced pilot “Casanova” came together when the company was still submitting its projects to general public’s vote, and the French auteur’s series was not selected. In spite of that experience, he isn’t opposed to working with the major streaming platforms of the moment.
“I have a story I want to make as a movie about artificial intelligence, but it’s difficult to find the money because it’s a comedy with robots,” he said. “So maybe it’ll be for Netflix, who knows. As a last resort, I will try Netflix.”