Jean-Pierre Jeunet Amelie
SCAD Lacoste – Summer 2024 – Lacoste Film Festival – Auteur Award – Jean-Pierre Jeunet – Maison Basse – Photography Courtesy of SCAD

When Jean-Pierre Jeunet released his film Amelie in 2001, it was a shiny, hopeful departure from the apocalyptic films for which he and creative partner Marc Caro had become known. He explained to a SCAD Lacoste Film Festival audience that one secret of Amelie‘s success was not to be too “sugary.”

In his discussion with SCAD associate chair of film and television Brett Wagner (whose films include the new The Big Bend), he noted that a lot of things worked in Amelie‘s favor — including, oddly enough, a release date near the 9/11 attacks, which fueled an audience hunger for something happy and distracting. The film follows Amelie (Audrey Tautou), a young Parisian waitress who tries to help others find joy.

Wagner noted that Amelie is “an extremely romantic, extremely sweet story, but it’s never saccharine — because it’s also occasionally harsh and occasionally edgy, and you never know what the next feeling you’re going to have is.”

Jeunet, who merged hope and wry cynicism in his answers, gave a typical response: “You know, human beings are the worst thing on earth. But somewhere, all of us, we have something good inside.”

He continued: “When you speak about that, you have to avoid being too sugary — I hope I did — and you’ll touch the heart of the people everywhere.”

What makes people continue to embrace Amelie, he says, is that “it speaks about generosity. Amelie wants to help people and she doesn’t want anything in return. So it’s touching for everyone.”

Jean-Pierre Jeunet on the Timeless Look of Amelie

The director said the look of the film has helped it as well. The film is difficult to place in any particular timeframe, much like Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil.

“And also, I showed a beautiful Paris — a fake one. No dog s— on the street in the film,” Jeunet said, to audience laughter.

The two also discussed the small details in Amelie — Amelie touching a grave, the story of a garden gnome, a photo booth book — that make it especially enduring.

Jeunet’s first two films were 1991’s Delicatessan and 1995’s City of Lost Children, both of which he co-directed with Caro and which combine dreaminess with bleak conceptions of humanity. The two split up after 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, which Jeunet directed solo.

Also Read: SCAD Lacoste Honors Miranda Richardson, Janty Yates, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Jeunet said he made Amelie without Caro in part because of his and Caro’s different visions. “Marc would have been ashamed of Amelie” because of its relative sunniness, he explained.

“It was very, very, very personal,” he said of Amelie, before adding: “I am Amelie.”

The trailer for Amelie, which played at the SCAD Lacoste Film Festival

The setting for Wagner and Jeunet’s talk wasn’t sunny, but it was sweepingly cinematic — they endured through winds, a light rain and flashes of lightning that added to the stunning setting of the festival. The festival’s films were screened at Maison Basse, part of the SCAD Lacoste campus that was a former gambling den of the Marquis de Sade, and attendees could glance past the screen to a castle that was the former home of de Sade and later fashion designer Pierre Cardin.

Between the castle and Maisson Basse (French for “lower house”) was the village of Lacoste, site of the SCAD campus since 2002, the year after Amelie‘s release. Classrooms, studios and living quarters fill gorgeous buildings and even carved out caves in the medieval village.

Jeunet received the festival’s Auteur Award, while actress Miranda Richardson received the Etolie Award, Back to Black director Sam Taylor-Johnson received the Outstanding Achievement in Directing Award, and Oscar winning costume designer Jancy Yates received SCAD’s Lifetime Achievement in Costume Design Award.

Yates discussed both Gladiator — for which she won the Oscar, and which was among the films that screened at the festival — and Gladiator II, coming later this year.

Main image: Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie, at the SCAD Lacoste Film Festival. Courtesy of SCAD Lacoste.

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