Commenting this evening at his Mill Valley Film Festival tribute, Jeunet claims this was made for $4000, which he got by not paying his income tax on time. The French tax authorities gave him 6 months to pay it off, by which time he had finished the film and sold the distribution rights for enough to pay the taxes (and more) before his extended deadline! It's a pastiche of everything from black and white drawings to noir film with quirky but creative visual juxtapositions (i.e. dark angled factory smokestacks fill in as an ocean liner once you add the boat's horn sound). It's a surreal mystery (Alphaville meets DOA) starring probably anyone he could push in front of a camera, but with creative rapid editing the life and sudden world travels and possible death(s) of Billy Brakko flip through eyeball-sizzling flashes of popular culture (reminiscent of Amelie's scene where she tries to imagine why her potential suitor hasn't yet arrived at her café). It offers optional endings for you to choose Billy's eventual fate, a "fabulous destiny" which must be seen to be believed! Much of Jeunet's playful style is already firmly in evidence; he claims his early influences were animation, like Terry Gilliam's similarly surreal Python animations, so he learned to storyboard virtually frame by frame. He said tonight, "Ideas are free, you just have to find ones you can afford to make into movies." These ideas were well worth the $4000! Will probably never be on DVD due to various clips inserted which would be very difficult to license, so look for it only as a festival treat. He's currently living in Stinson Beach with his wife adapting "Life of Pi" (Oct 2005) which I would love to see, especially now that he's turned down Harry Potter.
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