Amélie – Interview with Film Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Amelie - Director Interview Jean Pierre Jeunet
Sony Picture Classics

Back in 2001, a small French film made waves on the international film scene and became emblematic, not just of France’s cinematic industry, but of the nation itself. Amélie or Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amélie Poulain, follows our eponymous hero as she travels through the stylish Parisian neighborhood, Montmartre, to help friends, family, and strangers find joy in their lives while ignoring her own needs and loneliness. the film became a great critical and commercial success — thanks to director Jean Pierre Jeunet’s inventive story, delightful cinematography, and actress Audrey Tautou’s infectious charm. Twenty years later, Amélie returns to theaters to delight audiences on Valentine’s Day. Jean Pierre Jeunet sat down with Borrowing Tape to discuss Paris, loneliness, and the film’s reputation.

Listen or read the interview transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:

Hi, I'm Sofia Sheehan of Borrowing Tape. I'm here today with the legendary French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. One of the best movies of the 21st century, Amélie, which is coming back in theaters this Valentine's Day. So thanks for coming on Borrowing Tape.

Thank you.

All right, so you've mentioned how much Amélie is inspired by personal anecdotes and stories. How does it feel to make such a personal movie that becomes the image of an entire city for so many outsiders?

It's a perfect dream for every creator, I will say, because you make something very personal and you expect probably, I think it was 1 million admissions and to get back the money, and we made 43 million admissions. And it was a kind of dream. Little by little, it became a dream. And sometimes, it goes over the success of a film. For example, we had the screening at the Elysee (Palace,) the French government, with Jacques Chirac, the president. He was beside me, and it was just amazing. It's getting something more than a thing. And it was a big satisfaction because Delicatessen, The City of Lord Children were a big success, but not so much. And I never expected. I never could imagine a success like this. And it happened. So this is a perfect dream,

Amélie is about isolation and loneliness. Why is that such a big theme in all of your films? And what others are important to you?

I don't know. Maybe I love loneliness. I am a bear. I hate parties, I hate people. I hate you. I hate everyone. No, I love to live on my hill in Provence with my wife, my dogs, and my cats. And I am not a Parisian. I hate parties, I hate to honor, I hate to receive medals and this kind of stuff, awards and blah, blah. I hate that. I am a bear, really. I share my time between Paris, and Montmartre to see some people and the hill in Provence. And this is a very good way to do work. And my favorite place is my workshop in Provence.

And I love to build something, to make something with my hand. Augusto Renoir, the painter, used to say, every job, don't use a hand, it's suspect, it's not right. I love this line. You can see my work on my site if you want some kind of African statues made with stuff, finding the natural. And I made an animation short film with Deux escargots s'en vont, [translation]"two snakes are leaving." And also I made another short film with Amélie. You know that La véritable histoire d'Amélie Poulain. Have you seen that?


So it's just for the pleasure to make. This is my pleasure with the human being. And I appreciate the people able to make something, not only hard I am a big fan of National Geographic megastructure, people able to build some bridges, some tunnels, some big stuff. I am a big admirer of the faculty to build to make.

Right and your latest film, Bigbug, which premiered on Netflix, was about the way technology stops human interaction. How do you think Amélie Poulain would do in this modern world of cell phones, inside all the time?

You know she has a telephone, but it's hidden under a coffin or something. I don't imagine Amélie with a computer, with CGI, with social network. Not at all. But it's a strange mix because I love technology. All my films are made with new technology. We were the first with Delicatessen to make some special effects in video, not digital at this time. In video, we're mixing The City of Lost Children in digital for the first time. We make the color grading for Amélie in digital. We were the first in the world. And every time we shot in a real 3D, it was very complicated. I love that. But on the other hand, I appreciate the vintage world in terms of graphics, production design, the costume design, but there is nothing to see. It's not because you love vintage, [that] you leave it in the past. Absolutely not. And, to recreate the vintage aspect, I use a new technology. I love both. I am a big fan of my iPhone, but I hate social networks. That's it. There are two things I don't touch. Motorbikes — too dangerous. I lost so many friends; drugs. Social network and video games. Because of video games, I had the very first one. I couldn't leave during one month. And after that, I put it on the table. I said, finished, never again.

Well, that's good advice to live by. You filmed on location in Paris. You talked about the new technology for Amélie. How difficult was it to film Amélie's version of Paris and not the real Paris?

Yeah, we modified the Paris because at this time it was full, the sidewalk was full of dog shit. And we changed the poster on the street. We got rid of the car, the parked car, a little bit like with the photo from the 50's, the streets were empty at this time. And I modified the streets. Some critics approached me that they say, this is not real life. Of course, it's not the real life. I spend a lot of time to make some effort to modify the real life. I hate the real life. And because I believe about imagination, I feel like a painter. Probably because I am coming from an animation, I feel like a painter. And a painter modifies a reality. I think an artist has to have a vision. a special vision of [the] life. It's better for me, right? The French cinema is often only realistic stories. As a spectator, I appreciate, for example, I love the English directors Mike Leigh or Mike Figgis and Kenneth Loach. They do some beautiful, realistic stories. But as a director, I couldn't make that. I need some fantasy and I need imagination.

Yeah, speaking of your influences, the film is obviously inspired by Nouvelle Vague ('French New Wave') and Marcel Carne? What is it about their work that inspires you? And are there any new directors that you enjoy watching?

Yeah. Nouvelle Vague. Not at all. It's because you say that because there is a small part of Francois Traffaut's regime. But I hate Nouvelle Vague because I love so much cinema from the 50's, and 40's. Marcel Carne was that realism, poetic realism. It was a true story, but with a distance, with the dialogues, with the quality of the picture, with the music. It was poetic. And this is exactly what I tried to do. And the actors as well, they had some interesting faces at this time, character actors. And I love it. I try to stay in the same way. Today.

You've also previously stated about Paris. You couldn't film a sequel in Paris today because of the construction and all the clutter. Is there any other city or country do you think that is pretty enough? For Amélie.

The most beautiful cities on earth for me are Venice, Amsterdam, San Francisco and that's it. They are the most beautiful cities on earth. Paris now? Yes, too much construction sites. Especially with the Olympic games arriving. And now it's so dangerous to walk in Paris. Don't come to Paris. So dangerous. Even if you walk with a scooter. You know what I mean? Bikes everywhere and delivery for food. And that's it. So I hate Paris now. Like everyone. Everyone during the Olympic Games, everybody wants to leave Paris.

Unfortunately, it's not as picturesque anymore. Now, originally you wanted to cast Emily Watson as Amélie. When you met Audrey Tautou, did your idea of the movie change a lot or not as much?

Yes, with Emily Watson it would have been more Bridget Jones probably. We say that on old women. we say "vieille fille" In French — it means someone, alone at 40 45, looking for love. And it would have been great because I love Emily Watson. I know it would have been great, but she left for personal reasons. And when I met Audrey Tautou, I saw only two actresses. She was the second one. And immediately. You can see that on the bonus of the DVD. When I saw her immediately I said, "Where do you come from? I knew I had my Amélie and somewhere it was fresher. Is it correct? More fresh, because she was younger and she brought something amazing. Same thing for the musician and for the DP and Paris and sometimes the stars are in line, you know what I mean? It's like when you cross a city and every light is green. It was the story of Amélie. It was luck. It's once in a lifetime, unfortunately. But we had this luck, the same thing. Michel Hazanavicius had the same luck with the artist. Everything was in green. You know what I mean? Sometimes it happens.

And last question. Why do you think Amélie still resonates more than 20 years later?

Because, first of all, it's timeless. The look, more or less, is timeless. And also because it speaks about something strong. It's a story of a girl helping other people, but she doesn't want anything in return. She does that for free. Of course, she will win love at the end, but it's a strong idea. And I think human beings are the worst piece of shit on earth, but everyone has something good, and when you speak about that, it's touching for everyone. It's not easy to speak about that without being too much sugary. I think I avoid that with Amélie. Not for everyone, of course. Some people think, "Oh, it's too much sugary. I prefer cynical things, of course. "

Watch Amélie in theaters on Valentine's Day 2024