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Micmacs (2009,France)

31/07/2011

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet       Starring: Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier

Micmacs (or to give it its full title Micmacs a Tire-Larigot – literally and appropriately translated as “non stop shennanigans”) represents the end of a five year break on the part of Jeunet following 2004’s A Very Long Engagement. Quite what Jeunet was up to for that half a decade is a mystery to me but on the strength of this, the break seems to have done him good and left him able to return to the outlandish, elaborate fantasies that characterise his early works such as Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children.

Its centred around the hapless Bazil (Boon), a man who as a child lost his father to a landmine in the Moroccan desert and as an adult became collateral damage in a gangland shooting that has left him homeless, unemployed and with a bullet lodged in his brain that could kill him without warning at any moment. He is taken in by a group of similarly unfortunate misfits who live in a junkyard and support their meagre existence by salvaging and recycling scrap like demented Wombles. When Bazil traces the origins of the landmine that killed his dad and the bullet in his brain to two rival arms dealers he hatches an elaborate plan to bring them to justice, marshalling the talents of his new found friends to help him get his revenge.

All the hallmarks we have come to expect from Jeunet are in place. The heroes of the piece are a disparate band of sheer oddness played by a cast as accustomed to circus performing as acting. Otherwise simple scenes become elaborate physical performances with eccentric movements and sometimes outright acrobatics (especially in the case of Julie Ferrer’s sassy contortionist who spends much of the film in any position that isn’t normal) employed to make otherwise mundane moments into something a little bit special. As usual, Jeunet has a fascination with odd coincidence and cause and effect, much of the film’s humour stemming from unexpected or amusing consequences of relatively mundane actions.

The feel of the film comes across as a blend between Delicatessen, The A-Team, Mission Impossible and Yojimbo, with Bazil eschewing the use of violence and instead using the sort of elaborate planning seen in Jeunet’s earlier Amelie to pit the rival arms dealers against each other, picking at their weaknesses and insecurities to ensure they seal their own fates. There is a prevailing sense that the simple and direct option – i.e. killing the men responsible for the weapons that hurt Bazil and his dad – is seen as the evil path and that the worthwhile things, the good things, require more thought and effort. This non lethal, poetic justice heavy approach to vengeance would have done Hannibal Smith proud and clearly defines the difference between Bazil and his chums and the trigger happy, power crazed villains of the piece.

The cast are simply amazing. Dussollier and Marie are fantastic as the morally bereft rival arms dealers who spend much of the film in paroxysms of rage as Bazil’s plan unfolds and escalates. Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrer, Jean Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Omar Sy, Michael Cremades and Marie-Julie Baup are marvellous as the junkyard bound, adopted family that take in Bazil, each with their own peculiar talent. Freakshow weird they may be but they are charming with it and there is an authentic sense of cameraderie, a genuine idea of them being an extended family, that makes their welcoming of Bazil and subsequent collaboration in his plan utterly plausible. Most impressive of all is Dany Boon. His portrayal of Bazil is warm, funny and frequently touching and his abundance of charisma means you never fail to sympathise with his plight.

Visually, it has the look and feel of the earlier Jeunet films, an over saturated pallette of greens, reds and golds that transform the Paris locations into the stuff of fantasy. The different factions in the film have a different look – the heroes live in a Gilliamesque hotch-potch of salvaged scrap and recycled materials, arms dealer Fenoulliet lives in ostentatious and classical French apartments while his rival Marconi prefers the ultra modern. Added to this are little visual gags, like the numerous billboards, posters and in one scene even a dvd cover for Micmacs that crop up in the background of the (masterfully choreographed) action sequences, each depicting elements of the particular scene. The attention to detail is very rewarding for the observant viewer.

It’s pretty clear from this film that Jeunet has a dim view of the arms industry and the moral message is extremely clear. That’s not to say its heavy handed in its approach, it isn’t but there is no doubt by the conclusion that its impossible to justify the proliferation of weapons in the world, especially to third world dictatorships. It’s nice to see a film that is so much fun and seems so charming taking the time to highlight the hypocrisy of Western economies who condemn the sorts of atrocities committed in third world civil wars whilst simultaneously providing the means for these atrocities to be committed. As an aside, there is a message here about how we judge people, particular the unfortunates of our society. Bazil’s injuries lead to him losing his apartment and his job, forcing him onto the street. It would be easy to write him off as a work shy tramp as a result. This idea that there is always something more beneath the surface is another trademark of Jeunet’s work.

Eccentric, thoughtful, funny and heartwarming Micmacs is a hugely enjoyable film and a great way to come back to the filmmaking business after such a long break and is further evidence that even with Alien 4 on his C.V., Jeunet is a true master of cinema.

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