The 53rd San Francisco International Festival opened late last week with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs — a film that evokes an inner child’s sensibility and emphasizes the more whimsical qualities that can be found in smaller doses in the French filmmaker’s previous work. With colorful characters and plenty of verve, the visually alluring comedy tells the tale of a man who, after falling victim to a random gun shot, plots his revenge with his friends (a group of society’s rejects) who take pleasure in dismantling two rival weapon manufacturers. A treasure full of wonders, this original “anti-war” remark sees Jeunet use comedian Dany Boon (Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) in a comedy of manners mode that merits a comparison to one of cinema’s early silver-screen legend. SFIFF runs until the 6th of May.
Yama Rahimi: In this film you manage to merge successfully the whimsical and fantastical with a political message…:
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It was a risk actually to mix a serious subject with slapstick. To reassure me I thought of The Great Dictator. It was a risk and I hope it works.
Rahimi: It worked for me because it’s a timely subject matter. With the 30-plus wars ongoing wars in the world, this gets to the root that weapons and bombs do have consequences. I’m from Afghanistan which is still one of the countries with the most mines.
Jeunet: When we did the research for the film, we met this weapon’s dealers and discovered they were nice guys. They were open minded and have the passion for technology. They were very nice with us. They are unaware of consequences of the technology. When we brought it up, they would say, “no we work for the right side, we are the good guys. We don’t build mines, it’s them the bad guys.”
Rahimi: This is your first film in 6 years. Did it take that long to make this film?
Jeunet: Well I write my own scripts which is not for everybody because it’s a long process. Also a long process to find financing, then you lose an actor and so on. It’s a long process also because I’m picky, I’m taking time to shoot and in post-production. I also lose a year in promotion of the film which I follow everywhere. This time it was specially long because I lost two years on “Life of Pi” which is a beautiful project. I wrote the script, made the story board and scouted the locations in India and Spain.
Rahimi: What happened to “Life of Pi”?
Jeunet: It was just too expensive that it didn’t make any sense. When you read the book, you think it’s easy because you have a kid and a tiger in a boat in sea, so it must be cheap to make but no tigers love kids, kids don’t like the sea and tigers are good swimmers, so you can’t put all the elements at the same time. Everything has to be done with visual effects which is very complicated to make.
Rahimi: How did this project came about?
Jeunet: After two years I was starving to make a film, so I opened my book of ideas and looked on what I could use to make a film. Oh a story of revenge, perfect. Oh I loved the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with the toys of Toy Story. So I make a story of a man with a group of stupid people. Then the weapon dealers which is preoccupation of mine. So I mix it all.
Rahimi: How ingenious. Your films are rich with wonderful details. At what point do incorporate them? During the writing process or after you have the script?
Jeunet: At the beginning when we have the concept of the story. Once we know we have a revenge story, we open the book of details and see what we can use. For example the story of the sugar and coffee or the mine in the football field which I had in mind for 20 years. I have boxes of ideas and details like that. It’s pre-occupation to have a rich movie. For some people it’s too much and too many details.
Rahimi: No I love it. I think it’s rewarding on repeat viewings and a pleasure when you discover a new detail you missed the first time.
Jeunet: This guy wrote me that he saw Amelie 54 times and his wife wants to divorce him because of that. (Laughs all around.)
Rahimi: Chance or fate are always playing a role in your films. What is about it that fascinates you?
Jeunet: I had a good luck and chance in my life. I love stories with coincidences and fate like the books of Paul Auster. I had some premonitions of my own. One day I was visiting a huge set at the Universal Studio long time ago for the Steven Spielberg movie “Hook,” I had this voice or feeling that one day I would make a film in Hollywood. So when I was called to do “Alien,” I knew the time has come.
Rahimi: You have found the perfect match with Dany Boon. Was this project written for him?
Jeunet: No I wrote the part for Jamel Debbouze (Amelie, Indigenes) but he dropped 10 weeks before the shooting because of personal reasons. It was the right opportunity to hire Dany. I have been following his career for 15 years from stage because he’s the king of stand-up comedy. He’s a very talented writer, actor and director. He’s funny and I hate him. His film “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” in France holds the same record as “Titanic”.
Rahimi: You have an impeccable cast again. Was it difficult to cast the film?
Jeunet: No. I love this family of actors and my casting director knows that and my taste. Usually the main character I find myself but for the others he sends options. I pay attention to all the characters, even the small roles. For characters that have only one sentence, I see twenty people. For Amelie, for the character who said “Ticket please!” I saw like 40 people which pissed off a lot of people. I look for interesting faces and character actors.
Rahimi: There’s an homage to movies of the 40’s and 50’s, especially the Humphrey Bogart kind…
Jeunet: Well I wanted to start with “The End” which was in my book of ideas. So I looked at the films. I used the Bogart film but could have been any other. But the French dubbing is very tacky because it was done in the 50’s which was appropriate for our film.
Rahimi: What films or filmmakers inspired to become a filmmaker?
Jeunet: Definitely Sergio Leone with “Once Upon A Time in the West.” Second one was Stanley Kubrick. I saw “A Clockwork Orange” 14 times at the theater. Before that when I was 8 years old, I was making puppet’s theater with lights and everything. So I made everything myself, the stage, the costumes.
Rahimi: What’s some of your favorite films?
Jeunet: Again “Once Upon A Time in the West” which I can watch again and again. “Night of the Hunter” by Charles Laughton, Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting,” which is not a masterpiece but I loved it because it touched me. “The Godfather” of course which is not very original. French films by Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert.
Rahimi: What’s next for you?
Jeunet: Now I would like to make an adaptation because I’m not ready to write another personal movie. It’s a good opportunity to make another kind of film which would be more adult and serious. I don’t know yet. I found an amazing book. I will meet the author in LA who’s a famous script writer. I heard he wants to direct the book himself.
Yama Rahimi is IONCINEMA.com’s West Coast correspondent. He is a filmmaker and producer currently in post production on his documentary film.