The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet : Jeunet’s Journey Away

The Young and Prodigous T. S. Spivet. Photo: Jan Thijs. The Young and Prodigous T. S. Spivet. Photo: Jan Thijs.

Who hasn’t dreamed of building a perpetual motion machine? Well… I guess a lot of people. But still, for many inventors and scientists and dreamers, the idea of such a device is nothing less than the holy grail, the summit. But to young Spivet, it represents something different: the opportunity to travel across the country in some kind of inner journey.

This April, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest film is finally hitting the big screen in Canada, more than a year and a half after its original release in France. Magnificently shot in Alberta, British Colombia and Québec, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet tells the adventures of a young boy, traveling across the United States from Montana to Washington DC in order to receive a prestigious award at the Smithsonian Institute.

The Beautiful West

Adapted from Reif Larsen’s supposedly un-filmable novel The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Jeunet’s second English-language feature is a break from his usual extravagant directorship. Where the movie lacks the exuberance of MicMac or the fantasy of Amélie, it shows great sensibility and a calm mastery. From the rhythm to the camera work, everything is beautifully smooth and pleasantly relaxed. The music, the actors and the locations share the same emotions and play an equal part in the perfect setting of this inner voyage. A calm, yes, but never the less interesting and touching journey. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the trip, the people you’ll meet and the incredible landscapes.

Almost perfect
To be perfectly honest, this is the second review I am penning about Spivet. After a first screening, the movie felt so different from Jeunet’s usual work that I was bound to be disappointed. It was nothing like I expected. I felt this American, English-speaking, shot in 3D picture was directed by someone else. Jeunet was nowhere to be found. So as good as Spivet is, my brain’s lack of ability to compute this contradictory information toned down my pleasure. But like a lot of great pieces of art, Jeunet’s film sat there, tranquil, in the corner of my mind, amidst other information and memories (like my own failed attempt to build a perpetual motion machine), slowly sinking in and bringing a growing appreciation. After a few days, my disappointment was gone, allowing me to enjoy The Young and prodigious T.S. Spivet to its full extent.

The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet. Photo: Jan Thijs

The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet. Photo: Jan Thijs

If everything comes together so perfectly, I still have one… discomfort, if I may say so. Silly stuff of course, but it kept bugging me during the ride.

The movie bears a lot (a whole lot) of resemblance with David Lynch’s The Straight Story. The landscape, the camera work, and especially the music are so alike that I found myself wondering if Angelo Badalamenti had scored this film as well. Badalamenti worked with Jeunet before on Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles. The story of Spivet and The Straight Story are closely related: a missing brother, a long trip, odd characters. Even the directorial work (which represented a change for Lynch as well) is strikingly similar. Or pretty close. This doesn’t take anything away from Spivet which is clearly not a copy but still.

By the way, am I the only one who gets the mixed emotions of It’s-my-town-pride and a sense of an impostor when I see Montreal on screen pretending to be Chicago or Washington?

Anyway, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is still a must see, as are all Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movies. It is truly beautiful, touching and filled with great performances (look out for Pinon, the amazing hobo… pure delight).

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet opens on April 10.

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