Jean-Pierre Jeunet talks 'Micmacs'

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Time Out Film talks to Jean-Pierre Jeunet about his new film 'Micmacs'

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is best known as the 56-year-old director of such superior French whimsy as ‘Amélie’ (2001) and ‘Delicatessen’ (1991). He returns five years after the big-budget World War Two movie, ‘A Very Long Engagement’ with 'Micmacs', a slapstick comedy in which an eccentric simpleton (Dany Boon) takes revenge on the French arms industry.

The longer French title of ‘Micmacs’ is ‘Micmacs à tire-larigot’. Can you translate that?
‘“Micmacs” is a kind of manipulation. It’s suggestive of when you are greedy or you cheat. “A tire-larigot” bascially means “a lot”. It’s a very old French expression of which nobody really knows the origin. So manipulation – and a lot of it.’

What drew you to a story of a group of eccentrics sabotaging the arms industry?
‘When we were editing “The City of Lost Children” in 1994, my office was next to a big aeroplane manufacturer. And every day at the local restaurant we saw these beautiful-looking people and I would imagine them kissing their kids at night and dropping bombs during the day. I don’t want to say it’s a message film because that’s a cliché. Of course, everybody knows it’s not nice to sell weapons, but I think all the points we make in the film are true.’

What research did you do?
‘We interviewed a lot of people within the industry, some retired, some still working in Belgium. They were all very nice. They had a passion. They loved to talk about what they do. Yet they completely forgot to mention the destruction of the world. They have good excuses: “We worked for the right side”; “We don’t sell weapons to the bad guys”; and the best was, “We work for the Ministry of Defence, not for the Ministry of Attack!”’

You wrote the film with your regular collaborator, Guillaume Laurant. You must have a close relationship with him
‘Yes, of course. We are very good friends. To find a partner to write with is like finding a lover. And it’s like ping pong when we work together. We start off by collecting together all our small ideas, although I need to find the concept of the film myself. If Hollywood sends me a script, or if Guillaume proposes something to me, I am not interested. I need to be the guy who starts the fire.’

Your films are known for their wry, observational asides. How do you come up with these moments?
‘Whenever I hear or think of something that makes me laugh, I note it down on a piece of paper and throw it in a box. When the box is full we say, “Okay, it’s time to write”, but not before. The box has to be full of ideas. I love these details, these small moments.’

You’ve said you see ‘Micmacs’ as a children’s film.
‘Oh, yes. I hope so because I love Pixar movies so much. For me, the seven main characters in this film are the toys of “Toy Story”. I like to see this as a little bit like a cartoon.’

It reminds me of the Ealing comedies. Were they an influence?
‘Of course. But in this film I think the key influence is “Mission: Impossible”. There’s also some “Once Upon a Time in The West” in there. Some references to Tex Avery. And Buster Keaton for the slapstick aspect. The scene where a character is blasted out of a cannon is definitely Buster Keaton.’

Do you see yourself as an auteur?
‘Orson Welles used to say, “Cinema is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had!” For me, it’s like Meccano, and I try to build a nice toy with everything. And everything is the costumes, dialogue, music, editing, visual effects, details.

'I try to use everything and I love to be present for every step along the way. I don’t delegate. A lot of French directors are not present for everything. There are so many impostors who are just in it to earn money and go home and sleep with their wives.
I don’t understand it. For me, filmmaking is pure pleasure, and where’s the pleasure in what they do?'

Author: David Jenkins



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