Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest offering, Micmacs, is an intriguing proposition. The central plot follows unfortunate Bazil (Dany Boon), whose father was killed by a landmine and who has been accidentally shot in the head while working at a video store. He returns from the hospital with the bullet still lodged in his skull (it could kill him at any time, we’re told), and quickly finds himself unemployed, homeless and generally very down on his luck. The logos of the companies who made the bullet in his skull and the mine which killed his father are burnt into his memory, and when out collecting junk for the carnivalesque group of friends he’s acquired, he stumbles upon the two companies’ offices and vows to bring them down.
Thus far, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Jeunet, a million miles from the quirky charm of Amélie, has delivered a hard-hitting social commentary on the proliferation of weapons and the senselessness of wars which engulf the current world. So when you discover that Micmacs is at its heart, a knockabout comedy, there is an overwhelming sense of incongruity. And that, to an extent, is the film’s main, and really only, problem: it doesn’t know what it is.
Micmacs, in many ways, is like Jeunet’s well-known masterpiece, full of clever conceits, an endearingly odd central character, a myriad of fantasy sequences and an overarching moral of ‘be nice’. It is clear throughout that the French director has lost none of his skill since Amélie, capturing a bold palette of colours without overstatedness, and getting great performances from a central cast of character actors – many of whom you will also recognise from Amélie.
It is also essential to note that the cast deliver brilliant performances in an ensemble setting: particular kudos to Omar Sy’s crazy-eyed author Remington and Julie Ferrier’s contortionist La Môme. Boon’s Bazil is himself a bit of a ne’er-do-well whose life is fragilely balanced in a bullet’s width, but we are not encouraged to ‘aww’ at his predicament, rather to cheer he and his strange accomplices on in their task. Of course Boon is also central to the film, and his Bazil is a brilliant creation who shows not only considerable emotional diversity but a real gift for physical comedy as well. The film’s pantomime baddies – arms company CEOs François Marconi and Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (both played with gusto by Nicolas Marié and André Dussollier respectively) – also deliver with deliberately hammy turns, neither clearly giving a toss about anyone outside themselves.
However, the key to our cheering of Bazil et al is that although Bazil’s merry band live in a rubbish dump and are for the most part societal misfits, Jeunet never makes us pity them – they revel in simple pleasures, enjoy each others company and perform outlandish feats many of us could never dream of. Were they there to be mocked, Micmacs would resemble a circus act; instead, for the most part, it’s a charmingly acted, well-scripted, quirky-but-not-annoying flick.
But there’s a flipside to all of this, which is the uncomfortable moral and tonal shifts which permeate the films’ third. For a film which is mostly a balls-out comedy, and the third act, it’s worth noting, contains a couple of wonderfully inventive comedy set-pieces, there is a lot of preaching as the movie closes. We’re shown the painful legacy of arms dealers, the crippled sons and daughters of nations who’ve fallen victim to strife, and this message seems uncomfortably crowbarred into a movie which for large parts is a thoroughly enjoyable knockabout comedy. There are also numerous self-referencing shots (a car driving past billboards for the film showing the car driving for example) which don’t really work, and push Micmacs a touch too close to the bastard-annoying ‘ooh I’m so quirky’ school of filmmaking.
All that said however, if you want to see a film with some great physical comedy, dark humour and a winning central turn, Micmacs could well be your cup of tea.
7/10: A charming film which drags a little in the final act and tries to stretch itself into a polemic piece in the last half an hour, Micmacs is certainly a mishmash, but for its great comedy sequences and original, inventive casting, it’s well worth checking out.