After he is shot during a chance drive-by, video store clerk Bazil decides to take down the French arms dealers responsible for making the bullet in his skull and the landmine that killed his father. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest cinematic circus, Micmacs, with a title meaning "shenanigans," is an arms-race satire ripe with Jeunet's eccentric humor and visual style. Fans of the director's previous work, as well as the uninitiated, will find much to like in this hilarious French export.
Bazil (Dany Boon) is fired from the video store after missing work to recover from his injuries, and begins street performing to scrape by. He catches a lucky break when introduced to an odd band of junkyard misfits who live together as salvagers. With Bazil's help, the group uses reclaimed trash to create beautiful mechanical art. After catching the eye of an attractive contortionist (Julie Ferrier) and befriending a human cannonball (Jeunet mainstay Dominique Pinon), Bazil begins pitting the two death-dealing rivals responsible for his pain against each other through trickery and deception.
Jeunet, best known for Amélie, A Very Long Engagement and Delicatessen, consistently makes films that are as enjoyable to look at as they are to watch. Micmacs is no exception, and Jeunet gives it a Looney Tunes-esque tone that compliments the decidedly French humor. Jeunet makes a thinly veiled political statement about the dangers of overactive armaments, but this never threatens to overshadow Bazil's story. If I had to guess, one arms dealer, with all his Cold War sentiments, is meant to represent the Soviet Union, and the other, more Steve Jobs than Victor Bout, represents the United States. Both are wary of the other's business and are quick to point fingers when Bazil begins interrupting illegal weapons trades.
As is customary with Jeunet's films, there were points in Micmacs at which I had no idea what was going on. This is not a criticism, as the film deliberately leaves viewers in the dark so that the payoff is sweeter when the plan comes together. This Ocean's 11-style wheeling and dealing is especially humorous against the arms-race backdrop, and Jeunet hyperbolizes the ease of access to large-gauge weapons and the carelessness of their handlers. Another running gag I especially enjoyed was one dealer's fondness for displaying remnants of dead historical figures and desire to add Mussolini's eye to the collection.
The junkyard misfits are not especially realized characters, but are intentionally archetypes of peculiar personalities. Jeunet always makes the odd appealing, and the players in Micmacs are definitely odd. He creates surrealist films without losing touch with reality, and expertly blends sharp humor, romance and fantasy. Micmacs has decidedly French attributes but worldwide appeal. This is yet another winner from Jeunet.
Micmacs arrives on DVD from Sony Pictures Classics with an attractive 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Jeunet chose to give the film a very golden color scheme, and the transfer handles the warm colors expertly. Detail and texture are excellent, and some shots could pass for high definition. Blacks are bold and skin tones natural in light of the film's yellow hue. I noticed no excessive compression noise, aliasing or edge enhancement. The contrast of some shots is very high, but I suspect this is a direct result of the source material. I only noticed a handful of scenes that appeared slightly soft.
The film's French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very strong. Dialogue, the film's playful score and natural elements are kept in perfect balance. The track makes surprising use of the surround speakers and subwoofer with its unique sound design, and several explosive scenes are positively bombastic. English subtitles are the only option.
A number of nice extras are included for Micmacs:
Commentary with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Jeunet provides an interesting feature-length audio commentary in English for the film. The track is not incredibly technical, but Jeunet is a funny guy and provides a lot of interesting insight into his film. That Jeunet recorded the track in English for the U.S. disc is great because it does not interfere with the subtitles.
The Making of Micmacs (47:21) - This is a great fly-on-the-wall production documentary. In place of a narrator are numerous shots of the cast and crew filming key scenes. I prefer this style making-of to promotional documentaries, and this one is worth watching.
Q&A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Actress Julie Ferrier (10:41) - This is the English Q&A from after the film's Tribeca Film Festival Premiere. Jeunet and Ferrier answer questions from the audience, and Jeunet cracks a few jokes.
Animations: Absurd Deaths (2:16) - These are progressions of the animations featured in the film depicting the deaths of historical figures.
Theatrical trailer (2:13)
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet confects whimsical films you cannot help but enjoy. His films are also witty, visually stunning and emotionally satisfying, and Micmacs, an arms-race satire, is the director's latest triumph. A funny political send-up that does not get hung up on politics, Micmacs is consistently funny and rewarding. Sony's DVD looks and sounds great, and includes a nice assortment of extras. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.