Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the uplifting French classic Amelie returns to Blu-ray and DVD this month. STACK caught up with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to discuss his most personal and enduring film to date.
The 20th anniversary of Amelie could not have come at a better time, when the world needs the quality of kindness and positivity that’s personified by the title character.
With a bohemian attitude and a Parisian romanticism, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film tells the story of a young woman with a boundless imagination named Amelie (Audrey Tautou), whose purpose in life is to spread joy. It’s a simplistic fable wrapped in an avant-garde sense of surrealism, which relishes the little pleasures in life, leaping off the screen in a celebration of love and happiness.
Sitting down with STACK via Zoom during the recent Cannes Film Festival, Jeunet reflects on his seminal film and its cultural impact over the past two decades.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because I live very close to the Café Des Deux Moulins, which is the café from Amelie, and I see every day some people taking pictures of the café,” he says with a sense of delight. “I avoid saying, ‘I am the director’ because they never believe me when I try that.”
He also recalls a surreal experience involving Hollywood actress Jodie Foster a few years later.
“Let me tell you the story. For A Very Long Engagement [his 2004 drama], we had an appointment with Jodie Foster, and we were waiting for a taxi outside. Some young French people arrived to take a picture of the café, and we were standing between the café and the people. And I swear it’s true, the young girl asked us to please stand aside so she could take the picture.”
Jeunet burst onto the screen in the 1990s with two twisted films, Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995), both of which feature a uniquely dark, steampunk aesthetic. He co-directed them with his former creative partner, Marc Caro, whose resistance to a different direction helped to inform Jeunet’s new creative outlook with Amelie.
“Marc Caro is very – how do you say? – he doesn’t want to open his heart, if you know what I mean. And so he could have been ashamed for this kind of movie,” he explains. “It is absolutely not his cup of tea. So it was after The City of Lost Children that I went to make Alien Resurrection, and coming back to Paris, I wanted to make my own personal movie with my own stories.
“But I started to work on Amelie before I did Alien Resurrection. In fact, if you see my short film Things I Like, Things I Don’t Like – it’s on YouTube – it was in 1989 before Delicatessen, and it’s the same thing [as Amelie]. It’s very optimistic, positive and funny.”
So, does he consider Amelie to be his most personal film to date?
“Yes, absolutely. Because I took notes for years and years previously. I have a very good memory for anecdotes and funny stories, but I have a very bad memory for bad things. So I had a big box of notes, but it was very difficult to find the concept of the film.
“It was after I did Alien Resurrection, coming back from Hollywood. One day I read one of my notes and it was the story of a girl helping other people. And then I understood, ‘Of course this is the main story’, and after that everything was easy to write and easy to make… but not easy to get the money, but that’s another story,” he laughs.
Reiterating on the current world climate and our desperate need for joy and lightness, we ask Jeunet where Amelie might be in 2021, and whether a follow-up was something he would ever consider.
“For a long time, they’ve asked me to make a sequel or a TV series. I refused every time. Although I did accept a musical for Broadway, and I hate musicals!”