Director in Focus: Jean-Pierre Jeunet


Jean-Pierre Jeunet was born in Roanne, France in 1953 and over the course of his twenty-five year career in cinema he has created some of the most visually striking films in the history of the form.

Having created a number of short films, Jeunet teamed up with Marc Caro to direct the self-penned Delicatessen in 1991, a dark comedy set in a post-apocalyptic Paris which laid the template for a style and tone that are present across his impressive body of work. It won the director a host of César awards and even picked up a BAFTA nomination. Delicatessen also marked the director’s first combination with Darius Kronji, the cinematographer who would go on to work with the likes of David Fincher and Woody Allen. He brought with him the distinctive yellow and green filters that Jeunet has carried across into the rest his work.

He followed up this success with the Palme D’or nominated  City of Lost Children in 1995. In a similarly dystopian setting to his previous work, a circus strongman searches for his brother who has been kidnapped by a crazy scientist. He attempts to use children as a means of curing his crushing inability to dream.  Jeunet then embarked on an ill-fated trip to Hollywood to work on the problematic Alien: Resurrection.

It would be a further four years before he would get behind the camera again but when he did so in 2001 with Amélie, his return proved triumphant. Starring the flawless Audrey Tautou, it has since become recognised as a true classic of modern foreign cinema. The director’s usual dark tone gave way to a vivacious romance set on the streets of Paris, replete with washed-out whimsy that only Wes Anderson could come close to emulating. The film raked in an extraordinary $174 million from a budget of just €10 million. With five Oscar nominations and two BAFTA wins the director achieved critical acclaim to match the financial success. Three years later he worked with Tautou once more on A Very Long Engagement. An increased budget resulted in comparatively meagre profit margins but this comparably twisted First World War romance is undoubtedly one of the director’s finest creations to date.

2009 brought with it Micmacs and a continuation of Jeunet’s aesthetically appealing auteur style but this comedy-crime caper failed to garner much critical praise. 2013 saw a return to mainstream, English-language cinema for Jeunet with The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet, a box office flop that may now see him face the same challenge that many great directors outside of Hollywood suffer: sourcing funding. Hopefully the future will be bright (and yellow tinted) for the Frenchman.

Did you know?

  • French actor Dominique Pinon has appeared in all of the director’s films.
  • He rejected offers to direct Hellboy and a Harry Potter movie.
  • Jeunet spent years working on adapting Life of Pi and planning the film for the big screen but stepped aside from the project. Ang Lee went on to win the Academy Award for directing the film.

The Films You Should Watch: Delicatessen is a lesser-known gem with dark comedy on par with the Coen brother’s finest work. Amélie, a true watershed moment in the history of foreign film and one of the best rom-coms out there.


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