STARBURST: A new Blu-ray release of The City of Lost Children is coming out. What’s the reason for the new release?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Just because it was the only film I made that wasn’t in Blu-ray and I love the quality. Here we have made some restorations, to make some DCPs (digital cinema packages). Now you can show a film in 45mm. I spent a lot of money myself to make some restorations to Delicatessen, but City was a big work. We had to fix some defects – the colour grading wasn’t so easy – but we have now a beautiful DCP. And a beautiful Blu-ray. So I am very happy – I will be happy!
You tend to work with the same actors in your films, for example, Dominique Pinon, Rufus and, of course, Ron Perlman in The City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection. Do you find think this makes the filmmaking process easier?
Dominique Pinon is special because he surprises me in every movie. It’s a kind of game now – I couldn’t imagine a film without Dominique. Sometimes I was close to losing him – for example for The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet. He plays the hobo in the wagon. At the last minute, he was free so he’s in the film. It’s a kind of game now.
I love so much the cinema of the ‘40s, the French cinema. I’m looking for interesting faces, character actors. In France, there are not so many, so maybe that’s the reason I use him all the time.
There’s a lot of imagination and dark humour in your films – where does that come from?
I believe in imagination. I am not very interested in reality. In France they love realistic cinema. They hate when it’s aesthetic. They love to work with reality. For me as a director, it’s not interesting. It’s like doing photography. I feel like a painter. It’s probably because I come from animation. I was speaking about that with Terry Gilliam a long time ago. He was saying exactly the same thing. When you come from animation you like to control everything. Recently I was in London at the Tate Gallery and I saw the Turner exhibition. This guy was transforming the reality because he was a painter – I feel like a painter. I don’t care about the reality. I think an artist has to have a special look on the world otherwise it’s boring.
You’ve been compared to Terry Gilliam before – is that something you take as a compliment?
Yes. Now I lose Terry Gilliam a little bit. I didn’t see his last movie (The Zero Theorem). But he was a master. We had an interview together for Studio magazine. He put a line on the poster of The City of Lost Children to help with the release of the film.
What was it like directing the fourth Alien movie, Alien: Resurrection?
You know, I didn’t feel like going to Hollywood. I was starting to write Amélie at this time but how could I refuse to go make a big Hollywood movie? I was a young French director. And this time it was pretty new – not many French directors in Hollywood. Now everyone does that. So I couldn’t refuse. In any case, I thought I would be fired after two weeks – I couldn’t speak any English at all. I had a translator all the time.
It was a great experience. I had almost total freedom. It’s impossible to imagine – I was alone on stage. Of course, there were the details of the casting and the editing, but more or less I had the freedom. Nothing compared to France...
You mentioned T.S Spivet, and you mentioned in another interview that Harvey Weinstein wanted you to re-edit the film. Do you feel like you didn’t get as much freedom from him? Do you need to have the final cut on your films?
You know I made a French and a Canadian co-production of T.S Spivet to avoid this kind of problem. You can never totally avoid American people because if you want to show your film – if you want to show it in the USA you need American people. Unfortunately, Gaumont sold the film to Harvey Weinstein. This guy is like a gallery owner saying to the painter ‘we’re going to change the green because American people don’t like the green’. He doesn’t care about cinema, he doesn’t give a shit about the film; he needs to pee on the tree. He has a problem with power and that’s it. It was a mistake to sell my film to this guy. He blocked the film for nearly two years and he released the film very badly so it was a disaster. And it’s a pity because this is the only film I made not really released in the USA. But you can see the film on Netflix and it’s my version, my film.
Amélie was a very personal film for you. You got lots of nominations and awards for that. How do you think that changed you and your perception as a director?
It’s like I had some injection that gave me a big head! It gives you confidence – you are confident when you have such a big success. It’s a dream for every director to make something so personal and it’s a big triumph. Sometimes I thought I was dead and I was in paradise. And everyone played a character like in The Truman Show, but in the opposite way, do you know what I mean?
Also, it gave me the possibility to find a lot of money for A Very Long Engagement, and I suppose now I still find the possibility to find money because I can say to the finance people – look at Amélie.
We read that you originally wanted to cast Emily Watson (in Amélie) and then Audrey Tautou came along. You said within five seconds that you knew she was right for the part. Did you believe that was meant to happen, or was it just a happy accident?
Yes. Every time when you have an accident it gives you an opportunity to make something better. I don’t want to say Audrey Tautou is better than Emily Watson. I am sure Emily would have been a great Amélie. A little bit different, much more Bridget Jones probably. Older. But I am the only one to be sure she would’ve been great. After I hired Audrey, everyone told me she was too young. But now nobody can imagine Emily Watson except me.
You said in another interview you were going to do a film about sex and sensuality, after directing Casanova gave you some ideas. Is there any more news?
Casanova was a pleasure to make. I loved to do that. It was a paradise in my life because I didn’t work since a long time for personal reasons. I needed to work and not like a big commercial with someone behind my shoulder. And I love to make commercials. But I prefer freedom of course. With Guillaume Laurant, my writing partner, I spent the whole day writing some scenes about sex and it will be funny. I would like to shoot it in Aix-en-Provence because I am tired of Paris now. Too many traffic jams and too expensive. I love Provence and I’m sure it will be great.
So that’s something you’re writing at the moment?
Exactly. I spent the whole day. And I’m finishing a short film, an animation short film, because I love so much to make. If you see on my site, my official site, you can see some animals I made myself, like sculptures. And now we are finishing an animation – I am doing it with the animator of Mic Macs – it will be great. So cool.
In your earlier films you worked with Marc Caro, with some inspiration from comics. Are you still inspired by comics at all?
No not really. I don’t read comics. I, a little bit, follow animation now. I still like cinema of imagination. As I said I don’t like realistic cinema, and I will continue to work about imagination.
Are there any directors or actors working right now who you follow?
I love Martin Scorsese so much. I had the great privilege to be invited to receive the Lumières award. I was the only French director on the stage. And he came to me and he spoke to me about Spivet. He said he saw the film three times, it’s so great, he showed it at the birthday of his daughter, and it was such a great pleasure. Thank you!
He was inspired by French films – you said you love the ‘40s films and Scorsese loved the French New Wave and the Cahiers du cinema...
In fact, Hugo was a film for me. I was pissed off when I saw it. I said to Martin, ‘now you just have to make some good cheese!’, and he laughed with his big laugh. There are one or two shots I can say are so A Very Long Engagement and I know that so I am very proud.
The City of Lost Children is out now on Blu-ray