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HomeIndustry SectorFilmJean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie Returns to Theaters (Interview)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie Returns to Theaters (Interview)

Sony Pictures Classics has reissued the award-winning 2001 French classic Amélie into 250 theaters nationwide starting February 14. For this special Valentine’s Day encore, Above the Line got to speak with visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet about the film’s continued legacy, as well as his experience making his follow-up A Very Long Engagement in 2004 (also starring Audrey Tautou). He also discusses the heartbreak of being unable to film his planned adaptation of Life of Pi before Ang Lee took over as director.

Above the Line: Amélie certainly has a timeless quality about it, and feels as fresh today as it did two decades ago. Are you pleased that there is still so much love for this movie all these years later?

Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Oh, yes. This film gave me so much satisfaction and never stopped during the past 24 years. Oh, my God… say no more, say no more. For example, two years ago it was screening at the Cannes Film Festival on the beach for free. The Cannes Film Festival said, “We’re all very busy now, and probably you will have 50 people.” It was a rainy day. No, it was packed! It was 800 people! Every week we have another new event. For example, a few months ago some people knock at the door of my office, because a young girl, five years old, saw the poster in my office, and they told me she is a fan. She watches Amélie every day. Can you believe it? Five years old. Wow. So yeah, it’s such a big satisfaction, and even today there are awesome parodies on TV, some references. If I make some commercial, every time we speak about Amélie, even 23 years after.                        

ATL: When David Fincher made Fight Club, he complained of having to do all these massive setups and company moves just to grab shots that would be in his film for five or 10 seconds. Amélie is a great example of that montage style in action. Do you have more patience for putting a great deal of work into very brief shots?

Jeunet: Of course, I love so much to make [those]. You can see on my internet site I built some animals with my friends. I love to build. I made an animated film, and you have to be very patient when you make animation… I am not the animator. I also made a short film, The True Story of Amélie Poulain. That was a pleasure to make. When I make a commercial, like the perfume for Chanel – it’s on air, I think, in the USA – I spent four weeks of research for the graphic aspect, or the production design, with all the casting. I love to work! This is the only reason to live, for me. This is the only thing I appreciate, the human being’s faculty to make. I don’t think only about art. For example, I love Megastructures, a show on TV on National Geographic, because they build some tunnels, some platforms, some bridges, and I love that. I am a big fan of the faculty to make.

Audrey Tautou in Amelie (Sony Pictures Classics, photo by : Bruno Delbonnel)

ATL: You nearly did the movie in London with Emily Watson. Do you remember any of the other English-speaking cast you had in mind for that version? How different would it have been?

Jeunet: Emily Watson was the only one. It was pretty weird because when she was back to see the father, she had to take the train, the chunnel! (laughs) You know, it was a little bit a weird idea, but I loved her so much on Breaking the Waves. I think it was a good idea, because she would have been more Bridget Jones, an older woman. Of course, everybody says now, “No, it would have been impossible.” No, I know she would have been a nice Amelie, but because she turned it down for personal reasons, I met Audrey Tautou, and it was perfect. This film is full of nice stories. This is probably the reason for the success of the film: It’s full of different, good ideas, and the stars were in line. It happens sometimes. It’s like when you cross the city in a car and every light is green. We were very lucky.

ATL: After Amélie you had a lot of cache, because it did so well everywhere in the world. Was there a temptation to go back to Hollywood and make a big American movie again, or did you feel more comfortable doing A Very Long Engagement in your home country?

Jeunet: Yeah, because I felt [comfortable] to make A Very Long Engagement… because I met Audrey Tautou and I thought this is the perfect method. And also because of the success of Amélie I could ask for the rights from Warners, because they were the owner of the rights, and they said “yes.” It was kind of a dream. I was in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, and the boss of Warners were so nice. I said I want to shoot in French, “Okay.” I want the final cut, “Okay”… etc, etc. They said “yes” for everything, and they gave me total freedom. We had the opportunity to make an American movie somewhere with American money, and the French critics often asked me to say bad things about American producers. I have to say, even on Alien: Resurrection they gave me almost total freedom. Of course, I had to fight every day. I said it was the toughest days of my life because you have to go faster, but for the boss of the studio it was a kind of dream. Just for Life of Pi… I worked two or three years on Life of Pi, did you know that?

Mathieu Kassovitz in Amelie (Sony Pictures Classics, photo by : Bruno Delbonnel)

ATL: Yes! I read that book specifically because I thought you were doing the movie.

Jeunet: But it didn’t happen. It was just a question of money, because it was too expensive. In fact, we found it was double the price.

ATL: Oh, it was double the price of the movie that they wound up making?

Jeunet: Yeah, yeah, because Ang Lee is friends with the president of Taiwan. I am not. (laughs) We made a real adaptation, and it was a clever adaptation because it wasn’t a ripoff of the book like they did. It was a very good. We had a very good idea to adapt. Everybody loved it at 20th Century Fox, the author of the novel, Yann Martel. Everybody loved that. It was just too early, because it was impossible to make the tiger in CGI. We had to wait three years, and three years later, they hired Ang Lee.

ATL: Can you tell me what the current state of the French film industry is like? I know recently you had to work with Netflix to finance your last film.

Jeunet: The world is getting different now, and we lose little by little our freedom. For example, Big Bug is very special. I warned Netflix, “Everybody won’t like the film,” because it’s a mix between science fiction robots and French comedy, and I couldn’t find the money in France. Nobody wanted to produce it. Netflix told me “yes” in 24 hours and gave me total freedom. At the end, I cannot tell you how many watched because they don’t want you to know how many people, but a lot of people… much more than a theater release, you know? So it was a good thing at the end. But now the marketing people have got the power in France. They explained to me what we have to do. They speak with bad words like “cliffhanger.” “You have to hook the audience.” This kind of stupid thing [is] coming from a commercial school.

The re-release of Amélie is now playing in theaters.

Max Evry
Max Evry
Max Evry has been a film journalist since 2005, serving at various times as a writer, interviewer, graphic designer, podcaster, video creator, features editor, and managing editor. Past media outlets have included MTV, /Film, IGN, and Fangoria. For home video companies Arrow, Kino Lorber, Indicator, and Via Vision he has provided Blu-ray audio commentaries as well as featurettes for classic and contemporary films including “Flatliners,” “Blackhat,” and Best Picture Oscar winner “Marty.” In 2023, he released his first book “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune – An Oral History” to considerable acclaim.[ox
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