Dominique Pinon is a gift to the world of film. His acting is defined by sincerity, energy, and a wonderful set of facial expressions.* His talents, sadly, are utilized almost exclusively by one director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Amélie fame and Alien: Resurrection infamy). Fortunately for us, though, Jeunet has made seven feature films, each of which feature the wonderful Pinon in some way. While the man of many odd faces is perfect in each, and the roles are never forgettable, there is definitely a hierarchy of how well the Pinon (Le Pinon, for all you Francophiliacs) is utilized, and so I will now attempt to accomplish the difficult task of ranking Pinon’s roles in Jeunet’s movies.
7. Alien: Resurrection – Vriess
Alien: Resurrection is forgettable, and while it isn’t charmless, it does bear the distinction of wasting the most potential for a Pinon character. Vriess is a paraplegic mechanic aboard the USM Auriga, which experiences a pretty unpleasant case of escaped Xenomorphs. While Vriess manages to have some interesting facets, and Pinon plays the character with his trademark charm, there just isn’t enough in this movie to support him. The role gets lost in a mess of a script (although of course the fault lies with everyone but the screenwriter, Joss Whedon); so, despite the great potential, Vriess is only slightly less forgettable than the rest of the movie.
Alien: Resurrection does get brownie points, however, for having a beautiful moment where Ron Perlman kisses Dominique Pinon. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t realize you need in your life until you see it.
6. Amélie (French: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Joseph
Lest any of you worry that this list will be a surrogate ranking of Jeunet’s films in general, here is proof to the contrary.** Amélie is a delightful movie that pushed Jeunet into the center-frame of global cinema; however, for all of the wonderful and colorful characters in this movie, Joseph is kind of an insufferable prick. His quirks are that he harasses one of Amélie ‘s coworkers, and then eventually is duped into loving a different coworker. Rather than finding this particularly delightful, I wondered why someone didn’t kick him to the quirky curb. As much as Pinon lends a lot of humor to the character that might have otherwise been absent, it’s hard to enjoy this character much outside of the fact that he’s played by a beautiful, beautiful man.
5. Micmacs (French: MicMacs à tire-larigot) – Buster (French: Fracasse)
Buster is a leader of misfits and record-holding human cannonball. In a movie that basically uses social commentary as an excuse to maximize zaniness (the original French title translates to Non-Stop Shenanigans), Pinon is in his element; he unleashes frantic strangeness into Buster, and in a lot of ways he carries the energy of a movie that is otherwise dull in its excess. Micmacs isn’t particularly memorable (although if you are a Jeunet fan, it’s worth checking out), but Pinon’s performance is everything you could want spare a more complex script to develop him; in many ways, it’s as if Louison from Delicatessen grew up into an ex-carnie. And that’s enough to support any movie.
4. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet – Two Clouds
Two Clouds is an old boxcar hobo, and Dominique Pinon’s performance is a gift to the world that sounds more like an excerpt from my dream journal than a matter of fact. In case it’s not clear why this role is so praiseworthy, let me reiterate: Dominique Pinon plays an old boxcar hobo. Everything about Two Clouds is wonderful, from his glorious hobo beard, to his befuddlement from talking to a child prodigy, to his completely nonsensical and unplaceable accent. His screen-time is short, which might be for the best, because Pinon as Two Clouds is best compared to the best dessert you’ve ever had, one where too many bites will only spoil its deliciousness; however, in that time we understand some nuances of the kindly storyteller and even see him develop a little, despite the fact that he is clearly in the movie to develop the main character. That is more than a little bit due to Pinon’s skills, which makes the brevity of his appearance a delight rather than a disappointment.
3. A Very Long Engagement (French: Un long dimanche de fiançailles) – Sylvain
Sylvain both is and is not what we expect of Pinon in a Jeunet film. His presence and performance are subtle as the uncle/father figure of protagonist Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), but Pinon takes the script and embellishes all of the character’s intricacies: empathy, insight, and wavering levels of hope that Mathilde will find out what happened to her fiance. I put this role so high because it shows that, for all of Pinon’s exuberance and quirkiness, he can also add a lot of details to a quieter role while maintaining his energy. This is the more challenged and conflicted side of Le Pinon, but instead of boring us, he shows that his positive qualities are not those of a one-trick pony, but an incredibly talented actor. As much as I am ranking the roles of Pinon and not necessarily his performance, I can’t ignore that the role is made incredible by Pinon’s skill.
2. Delicatessen – Louison
This is Pinon’s first performance in a Jeunet feature film (he had previously starred in Jeunet’s short film Things I Like, Things I Don’t Like), but his performance reflects the confidence of an experienced actor. In a dystopian France, a young gent named Louison comes to an apartment complex looking for work, not realizing that the landlord and local butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), is killing and serving (yes, as in cannibalism) workers to his residents. Louison is a colorful, creative contrast to the weary residents of the complex, and his ability to introduce everyday art and serendipity to a world that is largely drab and mechanistic makes him one of the most memorable characters in Jeunet’s filmography. Pinon was practically born to play this role, from his affable yet unique face and facial expressions, to his sincerity-exuding demeanor. This role ranks so high in part because it is the only one of Jeunet’s films where Pinon plays the protagonist, but the real charm is the friendliness, hopefulness, and creativity that Louison represents and that Pinon reflects in his performance.
1. The City of Lost Children (French: La Cité des enfants perdus) – The Original/The Clones
City of Lost Children takes the cake for Pinon roles. How could it not? There are seven Pinons in this movie: six narcoleptic clones and an amnesiac mad scientist. Do you need more reasons? Well, fine. As the clones, Pinon embellishes the desperation of the characters to be “the original clone,” which only adds to the themes of uniqueness and identity that are explored throughout the film. As the mad scientist, Pinon injects a whole lot of zaniness that adds to the intense imagination going on in this dystopia. He also ties himself to a tower and screams at birds for, like, fifteen minutes, which is pretty great. Everything about these roles is tailored to Pinon’s strengths, and the result is the perfect harmony between character(s) and actor.
Bask in the Pinon, friends, and reign in the new year by treating yourself to the joys of these fine movies. Might I suggest a Delicatessen and City of Lost Children double feature?
Happy Holidays, everyone!
*One of those expressions is dead sexiness, as evidenced by the framed photo I have of him on my desk at work that I sadly cannot share with you all due to the evils of copyright.
**Also, how dare you question my journalistic integrity. This is a list of high cultural value, clearly.