The present. Bazil (Dany Boon) holds down a dead-end job in a video store. One night, he’s caught in the crossfire of a drive-by and a bullet lodges in his brain. A doctor flips a coin whether to remove it. The bullet is left in.
Summarily evicted from his dingy apartment after he gets out of hospital and his old job at the video store now being fulfilled by someone else, Bazil finds himself on the streets. He’s quickly adopted by a rag-tag group of eccentrics who live in a commune under a rubbish tip. All are outsiders, all have some special talent. All come to Bazil’s aid when he discovers that the arms manufacturer who made the mine that killed his father have premises directly opposite the firm who made the bullet in his head. Together, they plan an elaborate revenge.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I missed ‘Micmacs a Tire-Larigot’ (to give it its full title) at the cinema and only got my DVD copy from Amazon a couple of days ago. This review is based on one viewing which circumstances dictated splitting over two nights (something I hate – I always prefer to watch a film in one sitting). Also, instead of spending the first part of this evening organising my thoughts on it and starting to sketch out this review, I went to see ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and had a beer afterwards. Hence this very quick, not particularly well-polished review which I’ve given myself an hour to write so I can be sure of posting it tonight and complete the Jeunet festival this month before Shots on the Blog kicks off in July.
And whaddaya know, I’m already wasting words.
About halfway through ‘Micmacs’ the thought occurred to me that I’d follow up my not-Jeunet-enough carping about ‘A Very Long Engagement’ with some it’s-too-Jeunet carping about this one. Jeunet has stated that he made it after wasting two years in pre-production on ‘Life of Pi’, an intended adaptation of Yan Martel’s novel, before the studio pulled the plug over budgetary concerns. ‘Micmacs’ was born of his desire not to waste any more time and simply get a film made.
It shows. Every frame, every composition, every wacky device the protagonists build from rubbish and scrap metal, every manic set-piece is so deeply imbued with the urge to create images and bring the bizarre to life that it almost – almost – borders on desperation. I wonder how long the script was in development. It feels like a lot of ideas that were being kicked around for various different projects suddenly got bundled together. I also wonder how much of the film’s humour is lost in translation. My knowledge of French is incredibly minimal, but it seemed like a lot of wordplay was going on, the import of which didn’t make it to the subtitles. Also there are moments where the characters are singing or talking over each other that are unaccompanied by subtitles.
The film begins promisingly. The explosion which kills Bazil’s father is expected but effective. A montage of the immediate aftermath, his orphanage and his attempt to escape the sadistic nuns at a convent school is a tad ‘Amelie’-ish, but well paced and establishes Bazil’s ingenuity. The accidental shooting and an inspired segue into the opening credits put us firmly in Jeunet territory and I was rubbing my hands in delight.
It’s very hit and miss from hereon in, though. Bazil’s new comrades, while lovingly played by the likes of Dominique Pinon (natch), Yolande Moreau and Julie Ferrier, are ciphers defined only by one quirk or special talent; the script laboriously contrives a scene that lets each of them shine. The escalating series of pranks on the arms dealers, designed to play them off against each other and facilitate a destructive rivalry, are distracted from by a murky subplot about provision of weaponry for an overseas coup. Individual sequences veer from deliciously inventive to ploddingly moribund. A distraction staged at an airport is set-up with join-the-dots anticipation of chaotic hilarity, but pays off desultorily. Oh, and there’s an embarrassingly incorporated ‘Delicatessen’ in-joke that achieves little beyond reminding you how much better that film is.
Fortunately, Jeunet pulls out the stops for the double whammy ending. A cartoonish but wholly entertaining chase sequence is followed by a curious scene which initially seems to have wandered in from a far different, and much more serious, movie (no spoilers, let’s just say that it addresses the human cost of what the arms manufacturers do for a living) only for Jeunet to pull the rug from under his audience in magnificent style. The last ten minutes provide a sneaky commentary on the nature of the filmed image and how easy it is to pull the wool over someone’s eyes by means of simple misdirection. It’s almost an essay on the nature of filmmaking.
So: let’s bring these hastily typed thoughts and muddled impressions into order. ‘Micmacs’ is more Jeunet than ‘A Very Long Engagement’, but it’s uneven. Flashes of that pure Jeunet genius rub shoulders with middling scenes that are little more than Jeunet-by-the-numbers. It’s great to see the genuine crazy subversiveness pop its head up now and then, but it makes you yearn for the glory days of his collaborations with Caro.