Happy Fiendish Flicks Friday fellow fans of the phantasmagorical! This week I want to spot light one of my favorite Directors of films dark and light, Jean-Pierre Jeunet! Best known for his box office hit Amelie, Jeunet has made a career of making whimsical worlds that resonate across barriers of language, creating fans of French Cinema the world over.
Though to start I would like to talk about the power of a truly great Director. Like with any art medium, a good Director has to have an instantly recognizable style. Like Tarantino, with his over the top violence that meshes hand in hand with quick and witty repartee and a 70’s Grindhouse vibe, Stanley Kubrick’s bleak, dark and gritty view, or Guillermo Del Toro’s mind bending Fairy Tale visions that are reshaping the world of visual effects. All of these Directors, including Jean-Pierre Jeunet, have one thing in common, you know the minute you sit down to watch that you are glimpsing into their world the way they want you to see it. I talk often of Directors because it is a sure fire way to find movies you really want to see, and avoid others that will leave you wishing for your 2 hours and the price of your ticket back.
The start of my love affair with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s work came as a gothy teen left to her own devices at the local video store. An art student that had little concept of great film, but an instant attraction to the dark avant garde, so when I saw the cover of City of Lost Children on the shelf I knew I had to see it. Starring Ron Perlman as a circus stongman turned hero, in a sepia toned city plagued by an evil scientist who steals away children and collects their dreams in the belief that they are a serum of youth. It was dark, it was fantastical, and I was hooked.
Then I sought out the movie he made just before, and probably my favorite still, Delicatessen. A black comedy of the highest order, Delicatessen is set in a post apocalyptic France; where food is scarce, meat is highly prized and those that don’t have the stomach for a dog eat dog existence are forced underground to fight the good fight in the veggie resistance. The movie takes place almost completely in a single apartment building run by a maniacal bully of a butcher, who intimidates while providing the choice cuts everyone craves. As gruesome as it is funny, Delicatessen is filled with Jeunet’s signature colorful characters that you can’t help but love.
That brings me to one of the directing devices that Jeunet uses through out his body of work that makes his worlds so successful, color. If you have seen Amelie, you were no doubt drawn in by a feeling of romantic nostalgia, and that had a lot to do with the design aesthetic of the film. Tinted through out, as was Delicatessen, with reds, greens and yellows, colors which elicit feelings of love, warmth, humor and hunger. City of lost Children also used red and green tones, but sepia tones as well to create a colder more desolate landscape to set the story of stolen children by the sea. Coupled with making figurative feelings literal (such as Amelie Poulain melting in the cafe at the sight of her secret infatuation), Jeunet makes you feel and see in a way that only he can.
I’ve only touched on a couple of films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet in a long line of great flicks that I would recommend to anyone. Whether you like humor or horror, or even romance, his films touch on many genres and exemplify what I think makes a Director truly great. No matter what you watch though, when you find a movie that really draws you in, look for the Director behind the film, and you will likely find a list of great flicks and a new appreciation for the art that is film making.