Jean-Pierre Jeunet's new
film Micmacs (Micmacs
à tire-larigot) reflects a very French love of clowns, mimes,
and circus folk. It is a whimsical concoction that returns to
the visually inventive style that Jeunet is known for. The filmmaker's
predilection for mute losers and homemade machinery is on full display,
as is his sense of humor, which favors the silent-film set-ups of Buster
Keaton and Harold Lloyd. But despite all of this, Micmacs
doesn't work. Its themes are murky and generic. Worse
than that, the characters are one-dimensional; instead of backgrounds
and revealing dialogue, they are only provided with funny costumes and
acrobatic challenges. There is a flatness about the entire venture
that makes the film simultaneously cartoonish and dull.
In a short prologue, we see
a French solider being blown up by a landmine he is trying to defuse.
This man's son, Bazil (Dany Boon), grows up to be a shiftless video
store clerk who lags through life watching old mysteries and sucking
soft cheeses out of their foil wrappers. One night, there is a
gunfight outside in the street and a stray bullet lodges itself in Bazil's
skull. Its placement is too hazardous for surgeons to attempt
a removal, and Bazil must live out his days with the knowledge that
the bullet could, at any moment, spontaneously complete its journey
toward his brain.
From this dark, fable-like
opening, we are taken straight into Jeunet-ville, as Bazil takes up
with a ragtag bunch of rejects who live in a gigantic, hollowed-out
trash heap. Led by Placard (Jean-Pierre Marielle), this band of
misfits cannibalizes salvaged goods to create inventive new machinery
and tools. Bazil channels their collective genius to serve his
own purpose: to bring down the two mega-corporations who manufactured,
respectively, the landmine that killed his father and the bullet lodged
in his own head. This effort propels the bulk of the film, as
the team stages a series of pranks and gags designed to pit the two
corporate CEOs against one another.
The film's original French
title roughly translates as "nonstop shenanigans." That is
a fair enough characterization of the film, and it's incredible that
the American distributor of the picture chose to stick with Micmacs,
since it's a highly idiomatic French word that signifies nothing to
the average American viewer.
"Nonstop shenanigans" though
the film may be, Jeunet's visual flourishes and imaginative stunts
don't add up to much. The whimsical flair of Amelie and
the truly inventive momentum of Delicatessen are limply revisited,
but without the essential inspiring spark of ingenuity that made those
previous films memorable. There is no central guiding logic or
purpose behind Micmacs, neither from a visual or character point
of view. Instead, a very thin revenge story is carried out in
a monotonous series of episodes that pile heavy-handed "satire"
on top of some very well-worn jokes and situations.
The trouble here, I think,
is the combination of the light, vibrant, playful style that Jeunet
excels at, and the darker subject matter of the revenge story - a
revenge that is ultimately neutered of any real danger or consequence.
Jeunet's approach does not gel with the deadly impact of the arms
industry that we see at the picture's start - Bazil's injury and
his father's death. The stakes are uneven; comedy can hardly
trump deadly force, can it? On some level, Benigni's Life
is Beautiful suffers from the same quandary, although ultimately
that film is far less tasteful than Jeunet's. Still, style and
content seem mismatched in Micmacs - it's a juxtaposition
that never seems quite comfortable.
The performances are capable.
Boon is an energetic clown who works hard to bring the picture to life.
His antics seem occasionally arbitrary, as does the film as a whole.
Truly charming, however, is Julie Ferrier as La Môme Caoutchouc, a
contortionist member of the gang who develops a romantic attachment
to Bazil. She has the most development of any character in the
film, and her slowly increasing regard for the "lost boy" Bazil
is tenderly convincing.
Micmacs has its charm,
but that charm is limited by a lack of depth, both in terms of character-based
substance and thematic material. There is satire here, somewhere,
but it's buried beneath the enormous weight of Jeunet's dependence
upon visual flourishes and the increasingly annoying buffoonery of its
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.