French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a whimsical best known for his acclaimed film Amelie. When I mention Jean-Pierre Jeunet in conversation (which I might do too often), I always preface him with “the guy who directed Amelie” and everyone nods their heads as I continue to ramble about greens and reds. Along with his acclaimed 2004 film about a curiously shy Parisian woman finding love and spreading unrelenting joy, he's written and directed another five films, beginning with Delicatessen in 1991 and ending with his most recent release, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, in 2013. I went through his filmography recently and viewed all six films he's both written and directed. I did not include Alien: Resurrection because he didn't write it, only directed it, although I do plan on re-watching it soon. With that in mind, as we imagine dead spaceships full of acid-breathing aliens, let's start the show.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Jeunet's most recent film is also the only film he has written and directed in English. It tells the epic story of a boy genius who invents _________, receives an award from the Smithsonian, and runs away from home to accept the prize. From Montana to D.C. by train, semi, boat, and more, it's a delightful and visually stunning ride, one that I wish I had seen in 3D in theaters. It's based on the book of the same name and is (in my eyes, at least) the only film on this list that is kid-friendly.
Jeunet's directorial debut is a low budget, post apocalyptic frenzy, where human meat is desired at every turn. Featuring a saw that makes music, a bunch of fog and smog, a room full of frogs, a sound effect heavy sex scene, and plenty of circus tricks along the way, the movie is a grey and gloomy affair, one that Jeunet perfectly captures to kickstart his career. Can we talk about the condom scene?
It's hard for me to name a favorite on such a strong discography, but MICMACS might be the one I revisit most often. Taking place in the underbelly (literally in a sewer) of Paris, a gang of quirky misfits take down two arms dealers who live across the street from each other. This is like Animaniacs meets Kung Fu Hustle meets a French carnival. Not a single part of this movie moves slowly or boringly. It is a fast-paced circus attraction, it is an entertaining jester, one you don't want to ever stop juggling.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
The City of Lost Children is perhaps Jeunet's most ambitious and certainly his most surreal. The film is a steampunk comic piece coated in heavy tones of reds and greens. It is a film that Jeunet has admitted to paying homage to Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Brazil, Time Bandits) and it contains much of that essence; where effects are natural, where magic can be found through eyeless robot vision and a talking brain, where the water is forever green and everyone's face is contorted and unique. I love this movie, especially considering Ron Perlman plays our quiet hero.
A Very Long Engagement (2004)
A Very Long Engagement is evidence that even when Jeneut is sobering you up a bit, he's still sprinkling magic throughout. It is a WWII period piece with significant levels of violence and sorrow, while still containing that Jeunet individuality, with inner weavings of mysticism and plot devices to make it feel unlike any other war film you have seen. Full of high levels of mystery and a web of treasure hunts and scavenger quests, it's a truly emotional film, one that had me wiping away tears by the end. It's Jeunet's longest piece, the highest budget (about five times more than Amelie), and the most serious of the bunch, but it's still a visual treat and contains enough quirky characters and ticks to remind you that you're still very much inside Jeunet's world.
Jeunet's most successful film, and the highest grossing French film in America of all time, Amelie is a feel-good romantic comedy with enough individuality and character to charm your pants right off. So much personality, in fact, that it feels weird to call this a romantic comedy. From ghosts and photo booths to men with glass hands to raspberry fingers to sex shops to harmless pranks on evil neighbors, the movie is a delight, one that will have you either smiling or laughing the entire time. It's also worth mentioning that Yann Tiersen's piano-driven soundtrack is one of the finest of all time. *drops mic*