French people

Jean-Pierre Jeunet on “Amelie” and “Bigbug”

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a magician of whimsical visions for the big screen, like his most beloved work, “Amelie.” But for his first movie in nearly a decade, “Bigbug,” which premieres Friday, he opted to work with Netflix.

This retro-futuristic comedy, which debuted on Friday, is set in the year 2045, when artificial intelligence makes most everyday tasks easier but also threatens humanity. With Jeunet’s signature irreverence and colorful staging, “Bigbug” follows an offbeat cast of characters and their robot servants, confined to a technologically advanced house by the malevolent androids who now rule the world. Together they must find a way out.

Jeunet considers it a cynical entry in a body of work that includes “Delicatessen” (1991), about a murderous landlord and his tenants in a post-apocalyptic reality, and “The City of Lost Children” (1995), a steampunk fantasy centered on a scientist. crazy. who steals children’s dreams.

Speaking shortly before recent Oscar nominations, the director, 68, said that two decades later it still hurts him that ‘Amelie’ hadn’t won any of the five Oscars she was up for. competing in 2002.

He said he believed the academy excluded his film because of producer Harvey Weinstein’s awards campaign tactics. “It was a punishment, not for me but for him,” he said. “But it was our year! It’s a trophy that I would have liked to have. »

Jeunet was talking about his home in Paris. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Were you thinking about the dystopias of your previous films, like “The City of Lost Children” and “Delicatessen”, when you were writing “Bigbug”?

I used to say it was “Delicatessen 2.0”. No, the concept was to make a cheap film, because all my films are very expensive and I was looking for something with only one setting, like “Delicatessen”. It was a concept to write a story with people stuck in a room and it was created before Covid, which is funny. We wrote this story while filming “The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet” [about a boy genius on a cross-country journey]. I’m sure you don’t know that.

I actually saw it.

Oh, you saw it! Cool, because Harvey Weinstein did everything he could to kill this movie. [Laughs] Have you seen it in 3D?

Yes, it played in a few 3D theaters in 2015. I remember it took a long time to get released in the US.

I know, because he didn’t care. I refused to modify the film. Sure, he wanted to reissue, but now it’s fun to imagine him in prison. [Laughs]

Can you explain what happened with Harvey Weinstein in this movie?

He said to me: “We are going to do something better than with ‘Amélie’. I promise.” But when after a few test screenings he was like a gallery owner saying to the painter: “We’re going to modify the green because in the USA we don’t like green. I’ll ask the framer to put some blue in the place. I refused. I said, “I won’t change an image. So he punished me like he punished everyone. He wanted to do that with ‘Amelie’ too, but he didn’t could because it was such a hit. He never touched anything.

Your films often present mechanical gimmicks. “Bigbug” has many robots that have been physically built.

I like to imagine these objects because I manage to keep them. I don’t know if it will be possible with Netflix. I hope. Two years ago, a fine exhibition of props from our films in Paris and Lyon attracted 180,000 admissions. I was expecting money for “Bigbug” and nobody wanted to produce it. But yes, it was such a pleasure to imagine the robots, especially Einstein [a mechanical bust resembling the physicist]. It had 82 motors inside to move around.

Thinking about how “Bigbug” presents technology, are you afraid of the future or what the future may hold for humanity?

I’m just curious, because I’m not young and I would like to live to see what the next gadget will be, the next iPhone, the next GPS. Maybe there will be more drama, maybe nothing. Maybe the earth will disappear like in “Don’t Look Up”. I’m more curious than scared. If I had children, I would perhaps be more afraid of the future.

What do you think it says about the future of our imperfect species?

I hate messages. But if there is a message in “Bigbug”, it is that artificial intelligence will never kill human beings because they will remain stupid. They have no soul. They try to have a sense of humor, but they don’t understand anything. [Laughs]

Why do you think it was difficult to find the funds to produce “Bigbug”?

Because in France, when you have something original, you are [expletive]. This was the case with “Delicatessen”. Ditto for “Amelie”. It was too weird, too quirky, as you say in English. With Netflix, it was kind of a dream. They wrote to me and said, “Do you have anything? And I said: “Yes, I have a film, but in France nobody likes it. You won’t like it. [Laughs] They said “Send it”. Twenty-four hours later, it was the green light!

Have you considered the fact that it will be streamed but not in theaters?

Yes, but I have to admit that I’m rather relieved because waiting for the first day at the cinema is so depressing. If it doesn’t work well enough the first three days, you go less and less to theaters. With Netflix, half a billion people can see it. [Officially Netflix has some 220 million subscribers.] So even if only 1% of those people watch “Bigbug,” that would be huge. Also, I don’t go to the movies often because I don’t like having kids next to me eating popcorn or playing with their iPhones or texting. He drives me crazy. I start screaming at the cinema, so I prefer to watch movies at home on a large plasma screen or with my video projector.

Last year “Amelie” turned 20. What do you think of the film’s legacy?

Let it continue! There was a new version in Germany and Belgium, and Sony [Pictures] Classics bought it now for the United States. They’re going to do something about it, but of course it’s not the right time with Covid. [The distributor confirmed that it plans to rerelease the movie.] At the Cannes Film Festival last year, for example, we showed the film on the beach with a big screen and it was free. They had 800 places and they warned me: “It’s raining today. We probably won’t have many people. It was packed. They had to fire people. Sometimes I think, “I’m dead and I’m in heaven and everyone’s playing a character.” [Laughs]

A few years ago, you said that you were considering making a documentary on the making of “Amelie”. Is this still the case ?

Another disappointment because no one wanted to produce it. It would have been so funny because I wanted to make fun of myself in it. It was going to be cheap to make but they said it was risky. So I gave up. If I had proposed a serious documentary on “Amelie”, they would have wanted to produce it.

In 2018, you also published a book of anecdotes on the making-of of “Amélie”.

It is only available in French. If anyone reading your article is interested in it in the United States, my brother, the editor, would be very happy. [Laughs] It’s between 500 and 600 small memories. It’s like when you eat candy, you can’t stop. If you’ve seen “Amelie”, you know that I’m very good at remembering things. I have a very bad memory for bad things, but for good things, anecdotes and funny stories, I’m very good.

There was also a stage version of “Amelie”. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I hate musicals. I accepted the money to save children, but that’s the only reason. I support an organization that offers open heart surgery for children. In the end, I think it was not very good. It was a disaster on Broadway. [Laughs]