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Jeunet explains his singular vision for 'Micmacs'

Charles Ealy
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet screened his film 'Micmacs' earlier this year in Austin during South by Southwest.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet notices the little things.

As he prepares for an interview during the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in March, he wonders why a journalist would need both a note pad and a tape recorder.

"I don't trust people who need both," he says. "It reminds me of a guy who wears both a belt and suspenders."

The comment might be offputting to journalists, but it illustrates the way Jeunet operates, the way he focuses on the details of any situation.

That's apparent in his latest movie, "Micmacs," which had its Austin premiere at SXSW and is finally being released in theaters this week.

Like 1991's "Delicatessen," the setting of "Micmacs" looks like a mishmash of minutiae, all of which is bound together by Jeunet's fanciful vision. Most of the action takes place in a junkyard cave built out of scraps of metal and filled with intricate gadgets and human misfits. "So the big challenge for Aline Bonetto (the production designer) was to create walls out of metal," Jeunet says.

Bazil, who suffers from mild brain damage after being hit by a stray bullet, is the film's top misfit. And his quest for revenge drives the action of "Micmacs."

"In a way, I am Bazil," Jeunet says. "He uses his imagination to complete his revenge, just like I used my imagination to complete the film."

The intricacy of the cavelike setting mimics the complexity of the action, with Bazil and his group of outcasts devising a plot to destroy two rival weapons manufacturers. And since Bazil is slightly off balance emotionally, it's appropriate that the setting be fantastical, Jeunet says.

In the movie, many of the gadgets are made by the character of Tiny Pete, who serves as the archetypical naive artist.

But the elaborate gadgets are actually sculpture designed by Gilbert Peyre of Paris. "Peyre likes my films," Jeunet says. "He lives near my home in Montmartre, and he let me use a lot of his sculptures in the movie."

But as with Jeunet's previous movies, the overall look and ambiance of "Micmacs" is inspired by Jacques Prevert, author of "The Children of Paradise," which French director Marcel Caren brought to the big screen in 1945.

American audiences, however, are probably more inclined to compare Jeunet to Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.

Both Jeunet and del Toro approach their movies the same way, drawing elaborate storyboards that guide the production — and look — of the film.

So it's no coincidence that del Toro ended up directing 2004's "Hellboy" — an assignment that Jeunet declined.

Jeunet, who is fairly fluent in English, is able to communicate well in interviews. But he stumbles while in Austin when asked the last question — "How do you translate 'Micmacs'? "

He turns to a translator for help. And the translator replies that "Micmacs" is a slang term, meaning "lots of out-of-control shenanigans."

It doesn't take much wit to note: "Being able to speak English and still having a translator on hand is a bit like wearing a belt and suspenders."; 445-3931