While watching Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest directorial effort – The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet – it struck me that Jeunet can be considered Europe’s equivalent to Wes Anderson. Both directors’ films are lovingly prepared confections flavored with equal measures of whimsy and irony, topped off with exquisite set design and meticulously planned Rube Goldberg-like sequences.
To be precise, it is Anderson who should be described as America’s answer to Jeunet, since Jeunet came first – he had already cemented his reputation with Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995) by the time Anderson released his debut film Bottle Rocket in 1996. In fact, their paths converged at the 2002 Oscars, when they competed for Best Original Screenplay – Jeunet for Amelie and Anderson for The Royal Tenenbaums.
Like all good auteurs, their films also feature a returning roster of actors. Anderson has Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. I think Owen Wilson particularly, is still employed only because of the good graces of Wes Anderson and Ben Stiller! Jeunet has had the lovable rubber-faced rogue Dominique Pignon in all his films and various other actors who are not really household names outside their native France. He also tends to work with the same crew, like Herve Schneid the film editor and Aline Bonetto the production designer.
My sense that Jeunet and Anderson are two sides of the same film-making coin was subsequently reinforced when I read that Reif Larsen, the author of the book on which T.S. Spivet is loosely based, actually named both Anderson and Jeunet in a list of 6 directors that he handed over to his agent (the other directors on that list were Alfonso Cuaron, Michel Gondry, Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton…smart man, this Larsen). Larsen was assured that his book was good, but not THAT good to attract this sort of directing talent. He was overjoyed that his agent was proven wrong when Jeunet reached out and offered to make the movie.
Sadly, it appears that the stocks of these two film makers are moving in opposite directions since 2002.
Jeunet’s follow-up to the multi-award winning Amelie was the World War I love saga A Very Long Engagement, and was considered a respectable effort garnering Cesar nominations for Best Film, Director and Screenplay. But since then, he has directed only 2 films – Micmacs (2009) and T.S. Spivet (2013) – both of which landed on awards lists and box office charts with the quietest of thuds. In fact, T.S. Spivet failed to even find a distributor for North America, a travesty in an age when all sorts of foreign films are able to find a market in the US.
Anderson on the other hand, has been more prolific and barring the relative misfire of A Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), has churned out a Lifetime Achievement Award-worthy body of work that includes The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel (nominated for 9 Oscars this year). Anderson himself has personally has picked up 6 Oscar nominations during this 13 year stretch.
Therein lies the rub, for me. I actually prefer Mr. Jeunet’s films to Mr. Anderson’s, although I must admit, that jinx has been broken with Budapest Hotel which ranks as one of my top films of 2014 and with repeat viewings, may actually enter my ever-expanding list of all-time favourite films!
Nevertheless, I hold out hope that Jeunet (who is 61) will enjoy further critical and commercial success; who else could create scenes such as these…