Six years after making “A Very Long Engagement,” French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who is best known for his internationally acclaimed 2001 film “Amelie,” returns to the big screen with “Micmacs” (“Micmacs à tire-larigot.”) The film tells the story of a video store clerk named Basil (Dany Boon) who, along with group of eccentric new friends, designs a vengeful plan to destroy two weapons manufacture companies responsible for the death of his father and a drive-by shooting that left a bullet lodged in his head.
During an interview with me at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March, Jeunet, whose other feature films include “Delicatessen,” “The City of Lost Children” and “Alien: Resurrection,” talked about what he has been doing for the last six years and why he considers himself a controlling filmmaker.
Your last film was the incredible “A Very Long Engagement” in 2004. Can you talk to me about the past six years, your work on “Life of Pi” (a film jeunet left due to budgetary reasons in 2007), and how “Micmacs” came about?
I didn’t rest. I worked very hard on “Life of Pi”. I wrote the script. I made the whole storyboard. We did location scouting in India. We did a lot of research. It was complicated. But it turned out to be too expensive so I couldn’t make it. I was starving to make a film, so I made “Micmacs.”
That must have been a hard movie to let go.
Yes, but [director] Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) is supposed to work on it now, so good luck Mr. Ang Lee. I don’t know if they found the solution. In Hollywood, they always try to cut the budget and save money.
After all the trouble with “Life of Pi” I’m sure you were ready to move on, but then I read there were also some problems with “Micmacs.”
Yes, the film almost collapsed. I lost [actress] Emily Watson. I lost [actor] Jamel Debbouze. We lost four months because of this. Luckily, I was able to shoot a Chanel No. 5 commercial with Audrey Tautou until we were ready to make the film.
Speaking of Chanel, why are perfume commercials so cinematic these days?
They love to work with film stars and directors. I made mine after Baz Luhrmann made his with Nicole Kidman. I had complete freedom. It was an amazing experience.
Have you seen an evolution in your films over the last 30 years?
Not really, but maybe I would like to change now because recently I realized that all my films are the same story. It’s the story of “Tom Thumb,” an orphan who fights monsters. Now that I’m 56 it might be time to make a change.
“Micmacs” has very intricate sets and you seem to be a very hands-on director. How detail oriented were you with the other aspects of the film like production design and art direction?
I spoke about that with [director] Terry Gilliam (“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”). When you have a lot of imagination, you want to control everything. When you get a beautiful set, it is a gift. But I have to control everything – the production design, the music. I try to create the most beautiful toy with everything I have.
It’s been 13 years since you made “Alien Resurrection.” Would you ever make another American film?
Why not? I would like to make an American film with French freedom. I wouldn’t want to be just an employee [of a film studio]. I wouldn’t want 10 people looking over my shoulder. I wouldn’t want to work like that.
The issue of gun rights in America is a touchy subject. It’s something you cover in “Micmacs” in a very entertaining way. Is this a subject handled in France?
In France we don’t know this problem. It’s easier to kill people with a fork than with a gun. In France, hunters have the guns. There’s not nearly as many as what you would find in America.
What would you tell American moviegoers that won’t go see French films because they refuse to read subtitles?
Oh, I can understand that because I hate French movies too. (Laughs) But my films are not French. They are international. They are Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies.