Sunday, February 8, 2015

C’est Magnifique

Last month, the International 3-D Society named filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet the recipient of its highest honor, the Harold Lloyd Filmmaker Award. The society also presented Jeunet with the “Best 3-D Independent Feature” award for his latest movie The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.

I have been a fan of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s work for years, marveling at the visual playfulness of his compositions and the fanciful worlds that he creates in such movies as Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and the Oscar-nominated Amelie.  His earlier works showed an understanding of space that always seemed to imply 3-D even in flat images. So I was quite excited to hear that he was finally making his first stereoscopic motion picture.

Spivet tells the story of a 10-year-old boy from Montana who runs away from home and embarks on a journey to Washington D.C. to receive a prestigious award from the Smithsonian Institute. If you haven’t seen the film, that’s because while it was released to most of the world in 2013, it has yet to be released in the United States. However, while it is still awaiting an American theatrical run, it is currently available as an import 3-D BluRay from Amazon and this is how I was able to first watch this movie last year. All hyperbole aside, I find it to be perhaps the best 3-D movie I have ever seen, intimate and character driven, with stunning 3-D cinematography that utilizes depth as an integral storytelling tool. 

On January 26th, two days before the I3DS awards ceremony, the Society hosted a screening of T.S. Spivet at Raleigh Studios’ Chaplin Theater, and I finally had the pleasure to see it projected on the big screen. The evening was made particularly special by the fact that Jeunet was in attendance for the show and engaged in a Q&A immediately following.

Jeunet expressed that he has loved stereoscopy since childhood, when he first had a View-Master viewer. He called it “magical” and explained that he used to change the order of the frames on his reels, his ‘first attempts at making movies.” He said that he wrote the script and storyboards for Spivet from day one with the intention of filming in native 3-D and “not that 3-D conversion!” And unlike many contemporary directors and cinematographers who insist on using long lenses which flatten the image, he said he prefers shooting with short lenses. In fact, most of the movie was shot using a 22mm lens. His love for wide-angle shots had always been evident in his earlier works, and this latest picture takes full advantage of this visual style, taking its time with lingering shots that create a deep connection between audience and image. I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the marvelous work done by Jeunet’s director of photography, Thomas Hardmeier, and stereographer, Demetri Portelli (whose other credits include Martin Scorsese’s Hugo).

Jeunet can be a bit of a spitfire. In both the Q&A, and in his acceptance speech at the award ceremony, Jeunet explained why the film hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. “Mr. Harvey Weinstein bought it...and of course he wants to re-edit the film, but I am French and I have final cut, and I don’t want that, so this is a kind of war that goes on for months and months, and I hope that someday you will be able to see it in 3-D in a theater.” He declared “I think that artistic freedom is the most important thing!”

And you may just get that chance soon. The Hollywood Reporter published Jeunet’s comments, and a spokesperson for the Weinstein company responded that the distributor plans to release the uncut film in the U.S. this spring.