Amélie, the musical? Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivers a Gallic shrug to put Broadway in its cultural place

One could almost say the job of the Broadway musical is to provide a sort of grinning Cole’s Notes to other art works, sometimes outdoing the original in chutzpah

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Let’s put the show on right here! Or rather, let’s not. The charming American way of finding a decent story from, well, anywhere, and turning it into a showbiz monster on Broadway has been dumped upon from an extreme height by the French director of Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

On hearing that his saccharine tale of a cutie in Montmartre, (which went on to become the biggest grossing French movie ever), is to be turned into a Broadway musical, Jeunet had these choice words to say, namely “I absolutely can’t stand musicals and I hate Broadway. I consider that place to be the embodiment of tackiness.”

He well might be thinking about the fate of his fellow Gallic creative, one Victor Hugo, whose literary masterpiece Les Misérables will now be consigned to being enjoyed solely by a select audience of French academics and bookish people like my mother, since it became a musical juggernaut. I actually showed my children a yellowing copy of Les Mis at my parent’s house the other day. “Is that the book of the film?” one asked. Indeed.

Or M Jeunet might be thinking of one C Dickens. Who reads Oliver Twist any more? Not many people. It’s not the best of his novels, by a long chalk, but it certainly is not as delightfully easy to enjoy as the version with the exclamation mark. You only have to say “consider yourself” to someone and they will start hopping around, twanging imaginary braces à la the Artful Dodger. Indeed, one could almost say the job of the Broadway musical is to provide a sort of grinning Cole’s Notes to other art works, sometimes outdoing the original in chutzpah and charm.

Of course, it had to take a Frenchman to say all of this. We Brits are far too cowed by the importance of Broadway and the acknowledgement of showbiz’s Midas touch to complain when some of our prized intellectual assets are turned into tapdance material. As went Oliver, so go Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments. Even Sting, Gawd bless him, has been arm-twisted into writing a musical about how lovely life is for shipbuilders in Tyneside.

This would never happen in France. The French, whose disdain for the culture of the rest of the world is such they have official quotas for their own films, insist on their own crazy words (courriel) when everyone else says something else (email), and spend millions of euros annually on maintaining far-flung outposts of Francophile culture across the globe, really don’t give a flying croissant about insulting Broadway.

“I won’t go to see it [the musical],” Jeunet has said, sniffily, “I don’t want to hear about it, I will not listen to what they do.” Formidable.

This of course is how the French are, in politics as well as culture. They don’t want to hear how the rest of us get on with life, because they consider they have the most superior culture going, and the best bread to boot. Everyone else in Europe creeps around America, because she is so big, strong and, frankly, loaded. Not the French. Well, we could all do with a bit of such stubborn independence. Vive la France!

Twitter: @Rosiemillard

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