Jean-Pierre Jeunet is France's poster child for what has become all-too-common back in Hollywood: the auteur as worshiper of "the shot", i.e., the cult of the storyboard. Alas, his exportability has fallen exponentially in recent years, following the freak success of his art-house/date night hit AMELIE.
Courtesy of IMDb here are some stats: AMELIE's budget $11,000,000 and U.S. gross via Miramax: $33,000,000. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT cost a very considerable $47,000,000 and grossed $6,000,000 in America. MICMACS cost $35,000,000 and grossed only $1,000,000 here, less than the breakthrough pic DELICATESSEN did 20 years earlier.
Perhaps the absence of former DELICATESSEN partner Marc Caro is the problem (though he was already gone pre-AMELIE), but we learn little about J-P in this overlong featurette "making of" documentary, just the usual filler cranked out for DVD consumption.
The extreme difficulty of turning J-P's imaginative (and densely decorated) visual tropes into frames of film is clearly demonstrated. The talented crew members ranging from prop guy, a.d., d.p. and production manager to even continuity people are in action, conjuring up elaborate stagings that would make even Terry Gilliam blush. But to what end? As we see up & comers (star Terry Boon) and Hall of Fame vets (Jean-Pierre Marielle) joking around on the set it is clear that everyone is merely in service of J-P's cockamamy vision.
His meal ticket Audrey Tautou pops up on the set, as well as a former d.p., and these momentous occasions are preserved for posterity by Julien Lecat (who makes a living shooting these promos). A fire breaks out during one of the complex on-location stagings, but the film crew is not responsible. Endless detail goes into an orchestra appearing as a sight gag behind Boon in one shot, and the fake banners/red flames for a little devil appearing in a photogenic intersection are worthy of Erich von Stroheim detail-mania.
This all proves to be in service of what Hollywood crews call "the gag" -coming up with spectacular shots or sequences the way Keaton and Lloyd once did so classically in the Silent Era. In the film proper MICMACS, Jeunet pays homage to many greats of yesteryear, notably Max Steiner in his musical cues and silly WB credits sequence, but when he name dropped Sacha Guitry at his grave I was reminded how thin and shallow is J-P's scripting and content.
I'll take any of Guitry's experimental films, or even his more theatrical "canned" efforts, with their fabulous ensemble acting and interesting commentary on the human condition over the drivel of J-P's stock villains (arms manufacturers/trafficker here) and his condescendingly freakish "little people" protagonists. Suitable to a graphic artist, they're all mere comic book caricatures.
These dumb featurettes reminded me of the perils of fandom - a fanatic can't get enough. I used to religiously go to record shows in my endless quest after the rarest of jazz LPs, and inevitably there would be a table with a guy selling 150 or so VHS tapes of Grateful Dead concerts, amateurishly shot at any old venue they played. The fans' fetishism must be served.
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