By Don Simpson | June 24, 2010
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurent
Starring: Dany Boon, Dominique Pinon, François Berléand, Albert Dupontel
The year is 1979, Bazil’s (Dany Boon) father is blown to bloody bits while dismantling a mine in the Sahara (this ain’t no Hurt Locker); his mother subsequently has a complete mental breakdown. Next, Bazil escapes from a repressive Catholic orphanage. We find him years later, now an unabashed cinephile (ala Quentin Tarantino), working as a clerk in a video store. One night while mimicking the The Big Sleep verbatim, Bazil is caught in the crossfire of a shootout. At this moment, we dissolve into the opening credits of what seems to be a film within a film.
(Is Bazil dead? In which case…is everything else all a dream?)
With a bullet lodged in his head, Bazil’s surgeon is left with two options: remove the bullet (reducing Bazil to a vegetable) or leave the bullet alone (risking that Bazil could die at any time). A coin toss determines Bazil’s destiny – the bullet will remain in Bazil’s brain (“It is better to die at any moment than live life as a vegetable”).
Upon his release from the hospital, Bazil is transformed into Chaplin’s Tramp (other moments he channels Keaton, Tati and Atkinson) as he silently wanders homeless and jobless down the streets of Paris. While miming outside the Eglise Saint-Eustache, Bazil meets Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle) – an old con-man with a remnant of a guillotine blade stuck in his neck. Slammer takes Bazil to “Tire-Larigot,” a garbage dump hideout for outsiders, where a myriad of off-beat characters live and work (repurposing junk).
Each of les petites gens within “Tire-Larigot” have a name that suggests their particular eccentricities or talents: Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier) – contortionist; Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup) – human calculator; Remington (Omar Sy) – ethnographer; Buster (Dominique Pinon) – human cannonball; Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès) – skinny inventor with tremendous strength; Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau) – adopted mother and chef. (It is difficult not to notice a tip of that hat to Tod Browning’s Freaks here.)
Bazil experiences an epiphany when his truck coincidentally stops between the headquarters of two giant armament manufacturers (one made the mine that killed his father, the other made the bullet in his head). It now makes perfect sense why fate brought Bazil to “Tire-Larigot” – as each one of that merry band of outsiders’ eccentricities will prove to assist Bazil in his plot for revenge. (This is where Micmacs becomes a caper film – or, perhaps, a satire of one.)
Outlandishness and pratfalls ensue, as Bazil and his palls pit the directors (André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié) of the two evil armament manufacturers against each other. Every scheme goes one step further than the previous one (and always a few steps beyond realism), until they have the two men giving penance and pleading for mercy on You Tube. Don’t worry these cynical and immoral villains with friends in very high places (a photo on a desk features one of them shaking hands with Nicolas Sarkozy) deserve everything that happens to them; and though there is a lot of explosions the assumption is that no one is killed, only shamefully embarrassed.
Micmacs effectively conveys the greedy, amoral and reckless (in other words: Capitalist) mentality of arms dealers and government, but it is difficult to determine whether or not Jeunet is actually interested in the politics or economics of the arms business. (If anything, it does confirm that the garishly sentimental Jeunet is indeed a pacifist.) Politico or not, Jeunet puts together a great mixture of physical comedy (at times Micmacs borders on being a silent film) and wordplay (Remington, for one, speaks entirely in French proverbs). Everything is done with a certain level of cheekiness (like when his characters drive alongside the Seine, and they pass a billboard for Micmacs à tire-larigot featuring the film still of the exact moment we’re watching), but it never causes fits of uncontrollable laughter. As absurd and surreal as Micmacs is, there is an underlying seriousness (if not sadness) which Jeunet repeatedly reminds us of – Bazil could die at any time, any time Gilbert. Again, this is not that far off from the films of Chaplin and Tati which were grounded with serious (political and philosophical) motives.
Micmacs is as hallucinatory and surreal as a fan would expect, thanks to Jeunet’s rabbit hat of lens effects – the gorgeous cinematography is sepia-toned by day, dreamy by night, and pure eye candy around the clock. Akin to Amelie, Micmacs is a testament to Jeunet’s unwavering love for cinema with its relentless yet playful barrage of references to cinema’s past and visual ingenuity that rivals Georges Méliès. Like Méliès, Jeunet is a magician in director’s clothes.
I consider Jeunet to be one of the greatest filmmakers of the last two decades – primarily for his unique and transfixing visual style. Delicatessen (1991) and City of Lost Children (1995) – which Jeunet co-directed with Marc Caro – are two of my favorite films of the 1990s and Amelie (2001) is on my top 10 list for last decade. All three films warrant perfect 10/10 ratings in my book. Micmacs is not nearly as perfect as those three films – the pacing seems a bit off at times and I had hoped for content that was slightly more cerebrally stimulating – though it is still quite a fun ride. Truth be told, Micmacs is a popcorn movie for those of us who err towards non-mainstream fare.
Also, check out my interview with Jean-Pierre Jeunet about Micmacs and all things cinema.