Micmacs review

Posted on 18 March 2010
By Michael Cooper
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The Paris of Micmacs, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest film, is grittier than the nostalgic Paris of the phenomenon that was Amelie. The theme is harder nosed too, as he spins an unabashedly polemical yarn that condemns one industry in particular – the arms trade.

Whether your politics align with his or not, if you have enjoyed his previous bricolages of visual gags, larger than life characters and charming contrivances, this will not disappoint.

The title means in effect “Loads of dodgy dealings” and the storyline itself is a straightforward parable in which humble video shop employee, Bazil (Dany Boon), ends up fatherless and homeless because of armaments and devises retribution with the assistance of a posse of similarly marginalised misfits.

Bazil’s father has been killed by a mine in North Africa and since he was a boy he has wondered about the companies who make such things. Later, as a young man working in a video rental shop, during a bungled assassination, he is hit in the head by a bullet.

Lodged in his brain, the projectile causes him serious ‘mal a la tête’ which, the surgeon informs him, could kill him at any moment if he becomes too stressed.

Fired from his job and evicted from his apartment, he wanders the streets, lost and destitute. His wanderings are observed by a collection of characters that make their home inside a scrapheap.

They take him in and become his surrogate misfit family, teaching him their survival scams and street smarts.

Boon plays Bazil as an innocent up against monstrous odds, a recurring theme for Jeunet, who weaves a collage of set-piece physical comedy, including homages to Chaplin, and quintessential film clown Jacques Tati.

Influenced by animation film makers, he aspires to the ideal that every individual shot should contain a discrete idea, and Micmacs is certainly brim full of amusing detail that has the effect of advancing the story incrementally rather than sweeping you along.

Most of the effects are achieved by old fashioned ‘in camera’ techniques, and are lovingly crafted with the result that the texture of Micmacs feels ‘hand-made’, a welcome respite from over-polished sterile CG settings.

Jeunet revels in creating worlds where everything is made of recycled junk. We get a strong sense that his sympathies are with older values that these things represent: the simplicity of a three wheeled fourgonnet (delivery van), the charming innocence of a mouse marionette with clothes peg feet.

These values, which in a way are childlike, are counter-posed against the brutalist and despicably self-interested values of arms corporations, whose leaders are not only un-caring, but irredeemably acquisitive and corrupt, and, ironically, ultimately childish.

Bazil discovers that the mine that killed his father, and the bullet lodged in his brain were made by rival armament companies. Their headquarters sit, rather improbably, opposite each other in huge Art Deco edifices that would look at home in third reich Berlin.

He tries to confront the bosses of these companies, but is thrown out and begins a campaign to get access to them. It proves extremely difficult and his new family demand to help him.

The ‘family’ are headed by surrogate mother Tambouille (Yolande Moreau) and father Placard (Jean-Pierre Marielle) – the only man to escape madame guillotine due to a technical fault.

A low key romance gently unfolds between Bazil and a contortionist (Julie Ferrier) as their plans progress. Also in the family are a proverb obsessed African, a number crunching Aspergic woman and a genius inventor along with a human cannon-ball (long time Jeunet favourite Dominique Pinon).

Together they reconnoitre and infiltrate the armament companies’ factory headquarters. Through a series of inventive comic set pieces, they contrive to turn the two vain arms magnates against each other by attacking their weaknesses – one collects rare cars, the other body parts from famous dead people.

The storyline is a pretty far fetched caper, after all this is comedy, but its visual gaggery, word play and characterisation are thoroughly entertaining. However, Jeunet definitely wants to have his gateau and eat it.

Alongside the steam-punkery and homages to Tati (the sequence at an airport owes much to Tati’s Playtime), he lands a flurry of satirical jabs at arms dealing, and even contrives a way to show us the reality of arms misuse in a series of still photos of ‘collateral damage’ victims, without tipping over into lecturing us.

Despite the fact that the story is rather slight and its ending doesn’t feel exactly original, the film does make you laugh and have the cumulative effect of engaging you with characters that you care about.

Thematically, it succeeds in evoking a sense that arms manufacturers and dealers deserve to be lampooned, however simplistically, but ultimately, this particular salvo on the arms corporations will have little more effect than a flea-bite on a rampaging rhinoceros. But at least he’s having a go.

Micmacs (French title: Micmacs à tire-larigot)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Co-writers: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurent, Producer: Frédéric Brillion

An Epithete Films Production.