French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a magician who creates bizarre visions for the big screen, like his favorite work “Amélie.” But for his first movie in nearly a decade, “Big Bug,” chose to work together on Friday Netflix.
Debuting Friday, this retro-futuristic comedy is set in 2045, where artificial intelligence makes most everyday tasks easier, but also threatens humanity. With Jeunet’s distinctive irreverent and colorful mise en scene, “BigBug” follows a community of unlikely characters and their pet robots imprisoned in a technologically advanced home by the malevolent androids who now rule the world. Together they must find a way out.
Jeunet sees this as a sarcastic introduction to a piece that includes: “Delicatessen” (1991), about a murderous landlord and his tenants in a post-apocalyptic reality and “City of Lost Children” (1995), a steampunk fantasy focusing on a mad scientist who steals children’s dreams.
Speaking shortly before his last Oscar nominations, the 68-year-old director said it still hurts him twenty years later. “Amelie” He did not win any of the five Academy Awards he was nominated for in 2002.
He said he believed the Academy didn’t shut down his film because of producer Harvey Weinstein’s bounty campaign tactics. It was a punishment for him, not for me.” “But this was our year! This is a trophy I would love to have.”
Jeunet was speaking from his home in Paris. These are edited excerpts from our talk.
When writing “BigBug”, were you thinking about the dystopias of your previous movies like “The City of Lost Children” and “Delicatessen”?
I would say it was “deli 2.0”. No, the concept was to make a cheap movie, because all my movies are so expensive and I was looking for something with a single set like “Deli”. Writing a story with people stuck in a room was a concept and was created before Covid, which is funny. We wrote this story while filming the movie. “Young and Awesome TS Spivet” [about a boy genius on a cross-country journey]. I’m sure you don’t know about this.
I actually saw it.
Oh, you saw! Great, because Harvey Weinstein did everything he could to finish that movie. [Laughs] Have you seen it in 3D?
Yes, it played in 3D in several cinemas in 2015. I remember it took a long time for it to be released in the US.
I know because he didn’t care. I refused to change the movie. Of course he wanted to remake it, but now it’s fun to imagine him in prison. [Laughs]
Can you elaborate on what happened to Harvey Weinstein in that movie?
He told me, “We’re going to do something better than ‘Amélie.’ said. I promise.” But after some test showings, he said to the painter, like a gallery owner, “We’re going to replace the greens because we don’t like green in the US. I’ll ask the framer to put some blue in it instead.” I refused. I said, “I won’t change a frame.” So he punished me as he punished everyone else. He wanted to do it with “Amélie”, but he couldn’t because it was so successful. He didn’t touch anything.
Your movies often contain mechanical tools. “BigBug” has many physically made robots.
I like to imagine these objects because I can hold them. I don’t know if it will be possible with Netflix. Hopefully. Two years ago, a beautiful stage exhibition from our films in Paris and Lyon was watched by 180,000 people. I was waiting for money for “BigBug” and nobody wanted to produce it. But yes, it was a delight to imagine robots, especially Einstein. [a mechanical bust resembling the physicist]. Inside were 82 engines that had to move.
When you think about how “BigBug” presents technology, are you afraid of the future or what the future will bring for humanity?
I’m just curious because I’m not young and I want to live to see what the next gadget, the next iPhone, the next GPS will be. Maybe there will be more drama, maybe nothing. Maybe the world will disappear like in “Don’t Look Up.” I am more curious than afraid. If I had children, maybe I would be more afraid of the future.
What do you believe it says about the future of our imperfect species?
I hate messages. But if there is a message in “BigBug” it is that AI will never kill people because they will remain stupid. They don’t have souls. They try to have a sense of humor, but they don’t understand anything. [Laughs]
Why do you think it was difficult to find funds to produce “BigBug”?
Because when you have something original in France [expletive]. Such was the case with the “Deli”. Same for “Amelie”. It was very strange, very strange, as you say in English. It was kind of a dream come true with Netflix. He wrote to me and said, “Do you have anything?” they said. And I said, “Yes, I have a movie, but nobody likes it in France. You won’t like it.” [Laughs] They said “send”. Twenty-four hours later, the green light was given!
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Did you think it would be released but not in theaters?
Yes, but I have to admit that I am quite relieved because waiting for the first day in theaters is very depressing. If the first three days aren’t good enough, you’ll go to the movies less and less. With Netflix, half a billion people can see it. [Officially Netflix has some 220 million subscribers.] So even if only 1 percent of those people watched “BigBug,” it would be huge. Also, I don’t go to the movies often because I don’t like young people eating popcorn, playing with their iPhones, or texting me. It’s driving me crazy. I started shouting at the cinema, so I prefer to watch movies at home on a big plasma screen or with my projector.
Last year “Amelie” turned 20. What do you think of the legacy of the movie?
keep going! There was a new release in Germany and Belgium and Sony [Pictures] The classics got it for the USA now They’re going to do something with it but of course with Covid the timing is not good. [The distributor confirmed that it plans to rerelease the movie.] For example, we showed the movie on the big screen at the beach at the Cannes Film Festival last year and it was free. They had 800 seats and they warned me, “It’s raining today. We probably won’t have many people.” It was packed. They had to turn people away. Sometimes I think, “I’m dead and I’m in heaven and everyone is playing a character.” [Laughs]
You said a few years ago that you were thinking of making a documentary about the making of “Amélie”. Is it still happening?
Another disappointment because nobody wanted to produce it. It would be hilarious because I wanted to make fun of myself in it. They said it would be cheap to do but risky. I gave up too. If I was offered a serious documentary about “Amelie,” they would have wanted to do it.
You also published an anecdote book from the making of “Amélie” in 2018.
Available in French only. If anyone in the US reading your article is interested, my publisher brother would be very happy. [Laughs] There are between 500 and 600 small memorabilia. It’s like you can’t stop when you eat candy. If you’ve seen “Amélie,” you know that I’m very good at remembering things. I have a very bad memory for bad stuff, but I’m very good for good stuff, jokes and funny stories.
there was also Stage version of “Amelie”. Do you have an idea about it?
I hate musicals. I accepted the money to save the children, but that’s the only reason. I support an organization that provides open heart surgeries to children. All in all, I don’t think it was very good. It was a disaster on Broadway. [Laughs]