MicmacsDirected by Jean-Pierre JeunetStarring Danny Boon, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier and Jean-Pierre MarielleRated R*6.5*Goes well with: Delicatessen, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Deal of the Century
There's no director that easily compares with Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The French filmmaker's work has a unique visual style, focused on strange, dark fantasy worlds. Also, his films are usually about people on the margins of Jeunet's society, trying to make a difference as best they can. This is the guy who made Delicatessen, after all, as well as City of Lost Children and Amelie. His work always straddles the line between style and substance, because even when his movies are just, well, weird, the visual feast is so tasty that you're hungry for more. But how does it work when his films are supposed to be about the substance? His World War I epic, A Very Long Engagement, worked much of the time, but when it didn't, it was very, very long. And now he's come up with Micmacs, a satirical look at arms manufacturers and dealers and the group of outcasts who decide to take them down. The question is whether or not Jeunet's style will live up to a movie that has some substance at its core.
Comedian / mime Danny Boon is really, really big in France. He plays Bazil, and in the film's opening moments, a landmine goes off in Morocco, killing a French soldier who happens to be his father. The boy is shipped off to a miserable orphanage, eventually becoming a young man without an education. He has a job in a video store, which is a good gig, until a random drive-by puts a bullet in his head that the doctors can't remove. Soon, Bazil is on the streets, taken in by a group of subterranean freaks, the misfit toys of Paris. For the first time in his life, our hero has found a home and a community, which comes in handy when he runs up against two massive arms manufacturers. One made the landmine that killed his dad. The other built the bullet that's lodged in his skull. They're fierce competitors, and each corporation is led by a megalomaniac who is more than happy to earn his fat paycheck via the sweat on his workers' brows and the blood of people in countries far, far away.
Appropriately chafed, Bazil enlists his friends, who have a variety of talents. There's Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), whose father was a land surveyor and whose mother was a seamstress—she understands distance like no one else. There's Buster (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), a daredevil dying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. There's Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), a sexy contortionist / love-interest. And there are others, but you get the idea. They are society's flotsam and jetsam, but together they create Rube Goldberg-esque schemes designed to pit the French fat cats (Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie) against one another.
All of these ideas are fascinating to watch play out, because they draw on the strengths of each individual, and Jeunet stages them like a Charlie Chaplin / Cirque du Soleil mash-up. From a stylistic point of view, it's a triumph. The characters, including the bad guys, are all quirky enough to keep it interesting.
And sure, there's all kinds of subtext. Most of us don't see what society's castoffs have to offer. The people should rise up against the military-industrial complex. The manufacturing of violence is a nasty, corrupt enterprise. Those are all ideas that are easy to get behind, right? The problem is that Jeunet himself doesn't really get behind them at all. The bad guys aren't bad because they're corrupt warmongers—they're bad because of the impact their products had on Bazil. Any big-picture look at their business is more theoretical than real, because Jeunet is far more interested in creating sequences that look cool than he is in making his own points.
Micmacs is clever, but clever isn't the same as smart, and the tragedy is that there was room for Micmacs to be both. But Jeunet skirts around those subjects, more interested in whimsy than wit, creating a film that's appealing if ultimately unfulfilling. Style, in this case, wins out over substance after all.
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