INTERVIEW: Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Interview courtesy Market Me.

The visually stunning Micmacs, released on 21st June 2010, follows an unusual group of friends as they attempt to topple France’s two biggest arms dealers, with a series of entertaining, intelligent and bizarre escapades, is the latest offering from critically acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen)…

What exactly does MICMAC mean?
It’s slang or argot, and means a mixture, a mélange, but it’s always used in a humorous way.

It’s quite wacky story. A hero who has a bullet in his head and might die at any time who calls on a gang of misfits to take on the arms dealers he considers responsible for both his parents death and the slug in his brain. How did the story evolve?
I have always been interested in the story of Tom Thumb - the little orphan guy who takes on these monsters - and then I wanted to make a film that had this band of avengers made up of the characters like the crazy toys in Toy Story - I love Pixar - where each has a special talent, ability or eccentric little trait that is different from the rest. A bit like, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

And why arms dealers in particular?
I was editing The City Of The Lost Children, in Saint Cloud next to the Dassault arms manufacturing factories and used to eat in the same restaurant as their engineers. They seemed pretty strait laced but still normal friendly guys - but I couldn’t help looking at them and thinking that they have spent their day creating and manufacturing weapons to kill and destroy as many human beings as possible. So that stuck with me. But I wanted to make a comedy, not some serious intellectual piece, so I thought that pitting them against their opposites - a gang of scavenging second hand car dealer’s, people who recycle cars and abandoned objects - might be very nice.

You’ve referenced and paid tribute to a few other film and directors…
Of course, this is the fun! There’s Sergio Leone .You can’t do a revenge without referencing him. Another influence was Mission Impossible – the original TV series, which I love unreservedly. You can see that all the way through in the plot construction, the twists and of course the fake desert scene.

You and your co-writer Guillaume Laurant seem to work very well together...
Yes, so well that most of the time we do not know who suggests what. It is a true partnership - we bounce off each other. We had great fun with Micmacs, especially coming up with and forming the characters of the gang of second-hand car dealers, each with their angle and little, or big, eccentricities.

Like the Seven Dwarfs!
Yes, and that is why there are seven, and we gave them descriptive names just like the dwarves, like Calculator because she is always working things out, Elastic Girl because she bends like an elastic band and Remington because he is always on his typewriter. But once we had all these characters, we just joined the dots and used all of their unique characteristics to develop the story and help the plot along as it twists and turns.

Of course, the whole film hinges on Dany Boon’s amazing portrayal of Bazil that is so sensitive, yet so funny, and also strangely magnetic…
Dany is a big star in France - he was the highest paid European actor in 2008 - but started as a mime busking in the street, and also worked on cartoons. Now he is a comedian who writes shows, directs and acts. He has so much talent, it’s almost unbearable. He never did a bad take and was constantly looking for new ideas and ways to interpret the script. He was always joking with the crew and cast, and was never in a bad mood - I think that comes over in the part, as you can’t not like him! For me, it was like meeting a long lost friend. I felt comfortable with him right away.

But originally wasn’t the part written for Jamel Debbouze - the star of Indigenes?
Yes, I wrote the part for Jamel who lost his right hand in an accident in 1990, but he wanted time off from working. So I immediately called on Dany, who initially said no. So, I persuaded him to screen test, and we had a great time that he agreed. Of course, now if you watch the film, you cannot imagine anybody else on this planet playing the role. As soon as he put that big brown woollen jumper on, he was like a big teddy bear and I knew it would work. But the same happened with Audrey Tautou for Amelie. Originally we wanted Emily Watson but she declined and Audrey stepped in. Now who could imagine anyone else other than Audrey as Amelie?

Were you surprised with the success of Amelie and then dismayed after it was nominated for five Oscars but didn’t win any?
I never imagined how successful it would be. I remember sitting alone wondering who would pay to see it, and then suddenly Audrey’s face was everywhere. So I was happy with that. I am very fond of Amelie. I put my soul into that, my life and my story.

Micmacs is like Delicatessen meets Amelie…
Yes, that’s true. But I suppose because Guillaume and I approach each subject in the same way by filling up this box with our own experiences and locations and things we loved as kids and characters and notions, I suppose that’s why our projects might always overlap. They come from within. But the similarity is never intentional. In fact, very little I do is. MM

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