Rated R for some sexuality and brief violence.
Running time: 105 min.
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Gilluame Laurant
Starring: Danny Boon, André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau
The inner child of French director Jean Pierre-Juenet must be one wild and wacky little brat.
Jeunet’s newest, Micmacs (the title translation suggests ‘a lot of manipulation’) is like a grand erector set of found parts, classic movie homage, and heaping handfuls of that infamous French whimsy. Less sugary than Amelie, but lacking the tantalizingly dark verve of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, Mic Macs is the French fabulist’s idea of a popcorn movie for those inclined to absurdity. Striding out to the cinematic sandbox, Jeunet carefully unpacks his wares, and sets up a colorful wonderland sure to attract true-blue dreamers at heart.
The hero of Mic Macs is Basil, a goofy-looking lug who is shot in the head during the freakiest of freakish accidents, and spends the rest of the movie with a bullet bouncing around errantly in his brain. Fate has been dealing the unfortunate Basil a bad hand most of his life, with his father being blown to bits by a malfunctioning landmine when he was but a boy and his mother having a nervous breakdown as a result of that tragedy. Before that bullet finds him, Basil is hiding out from life in a run-down video store where he spends his days pouring over old film classics that create for him an illusion of purpose and safety. When his possible future as a vegetable is decided with a spur-of-the-moment coin toss by the surgeons operating on his wound, Basil realizes that it’s high time he start taking inventory of his own destiny.
In a different movie that might manifest as some maudlin personal quest where the hero strives to better himself so the audience can feel good leaving the theater. Not so here, where its employed instead to thrust Basil and his bullet into the trajectory of a modern-day enclave of oddballs–the gleaner’s variation of Snow White’s seven dwarves–who live below the ground as a gypsy community, each practicing their own singular art amongst a rubbish bin of throw-away treasures.
The leader of these misfits is Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau), a quirky mother figure of sorts, and her charges are both diverse and bizarre, including Tambouill(Julie Ferrier), a saucy contortionist with the hots for Basil; the curmudgeonly human cannonball (Dominique Pinon); the linguistic anomaly, Remington ( Omar Sy); rodent-like inventor Tiny Pete (Michael Cermades), and a rough-around-the-edges convict aptly nicknamed Slammer. They take the broken Basil in, and give him a place to belong and the gumption necessary to fight back against fate.
When Basil discovers that two weapons manufacturers, one of which made the landmine that stole his pa and the other responsible for fashioning the slug of metal now in his melon, live in buildings directly next to one another, he formulates a plan of revenge to take both of the giants down with a single blow, using his new-found family as the tools of his vengeance. At this point, the story sounds like it’s headed for a dark turn, but Jeunet is having none of that; the ‘revenge’ Basil devises is actually an elaborate heist that stands to humilate and humble his adversaries, not harm or kill them.
The heist itself is brilliantly eccentric and while it teases at the ghosts of Renoir’s Grand Illusion, it has as much visual invention–and about as much basis in reality–as the plan Woody the Cowboy hatches to escape the daycare in Toy Story 3. One of my favorite bits involves the contortionist, a distraction involving mimes, and some rather massive explosions. Watching the insanely complex way everything comes together is delightful fun, and although Basil and his compatriots are little more than the world’s coolest set of playtime action figures (Mom! buy me some Mic Macs!) Jeunet tunes the fantasy so directly into our pleasure centers that we give in, and go along for the ride.
Strangely though, Micmacs still feels like too much movie stuffed into too little story, even at the rather brief running time of 108 minutes. Far be it from me to complain about a dish being so rich in a season of famine, but while Micmacs may hit it out of the park for sustained whimsy and comic-book artistry it lacks a certain depth and poignancy that Jeunet has woven into every one of his other works. It isn’t that film is cold or even terribly slight, but rather it’s so directed towards pleasing the eye and tickling the senses that it simply doesn’t build substance into its make-up.
No matter, because Jeunet has concieved and delivered a fantasy universe here that exposes so many sensory layers that someone could spend multiple viewings surveying it, and still find new secrets blooming like hidden roses. Jeunet and his cinematographer, Tetsuo Nagata, conjure a pop collage of silent film camera-work and George Meilles inspired hand-crafted wizardry, and in the Rube Goldberg machinations of the heist there is the clear enthusaism of a stage illusionist.
Adults don’t often get many chances to partake of the same kind of single-minded, built-for-thrills filmmaking that their younger counterparts delight in during the summer season. Micmacs is in fact, exactly that kind of movie, a breezy and delectable puff pastry stuffed full of an older vintage of cinema magic. Of course, there’s no reason to expect that younger audiences won’t also want to marvel at Jeunet’s elastic, energetic madness. Here is a new movie from one of the best film artists of the last 20 years and if it isn’t quite into the stratosphere of his previous work, it is a gift to cherish nonetheless.