After a lengthy hiatus, Micmacs à tire-larigot marks a refreshing return for Jean-Pierre Jeunet, one of French cinema’s most consistently fascinating filmmakers. He first dazzled audiences alongside partner-in-crime Marc Caro with a slew of shorts, the beloved dark comedy Delicatessenand the fairy tale The City of Lost Children, then took a detour through Hollywood with Alien: Resurrection before delivering the one-and-only Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, which manages to be at once a sweeping romance, potent anti-war piece and splendidly Gothic mystery worthy of comparison to Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novels. Now, devotees of his fantasy-laced work can safely add Micmacs, which screened at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, to his ever-growing résumé of cinematic triumphs.
Comedic actor Dany Boon (Bievenue chez les Ch’tis, Joyeux Noël) stars as endearing hero Bazil, whose father is killed when he steps on a landmine in Morocco. Many years later, a chance incident ends with him receiving a bullet in his skull that doesn’t kill him, but threatens the possibility of death at any moment. Rendered homeless by the accident, Bazil decides to seek vengeance against the two arms manufacturers responsible for the fateful mine and bullet, soon acquiring assistance in the form of a surrogate family of oddballs. They include Julie Ferrier as a talented contortionist, Omar Sy as an avid collector of expressions, Jean-Pierre Marielle as a veteran con man, Marie-Julie Baup as resident brainiac Calculette, Michel Crémadès as a gnomish inventor and familiar Jeunet collaborators Yolande Moreau and Dominique Pinon as, respectively, the group’s cook and a human cannonball record-holder.
Micmacs’ prologue contains the same sober tone and golden color scheme of Engagement, but from there, with the witty appearance of a title card reading “The End” and the flip of a coin, the film takes off on a deliriously funny and incredibly inventive joy ride. With help from his frequent co-writer Guillaume Laurent and an ingenious army of artists and technicians, Jeunet constructs yet another of his magpie nests of oddities and wonders, this one resembling a feature-length episode of Mission: Impossible as seen through the funhouse mirror of his imagination. As in Amélie and Engagement, the camera journeys through Paris with visible affection, highlighting a traveler’s must-visit list of locations like the Moulin Rouge, Pont de Bir-Hakeim (the bridge prominently featured in Last Tango in Paris and many other films) and distinctive St. Christopher’s hostel situated alongside the Bassin de la Villette. However, during the Q&A session after the TIFF screening, Jeunet said that after having made three films set in Paris, he was “done” with the city and would like to choose a different one for his next project, with San Francisco, where his wife hails from, being a possible contender (though one audience member enthusiastically shouted “Toronto!”).
Micmacs bears many of the elements that make its director’s work so unique and well-loved: his trademark cartoonish humor; frank approach to sex and violence; reverence of nostalgia and childlike sense of wonder and joy. When Bazil is taken to his new friends’ home, the film arrives at the perfect Jeunet setting: a junkyard filled with forgotten relics that are rediscovered and assembled into marvelous contraptions. But besides Jeunet himself, the filmmaker whose work Micmacs most brings to mind is Jacques Tati. Like the Monsieur Hulot creator’s commentary on modern alienation in films like Playtime and Trafic, the film’s sharp, satirical attack on the arms trade employs comedy as a means of social critique. The sleek, antiseptic homes of the fat cat weapons tycoons (André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié) are updated versions of the one at the center of Mon Oncle. There are the numerous gags littered throughout the film, some of which involving a clapper-activated fireplace, the microphone repeatedly lowered down its chimney (at one point allowing Jeunet to indulge himself with a sly reference to Delicatessen), a stream of urine pouring from behind a small dog and the tycoons’ individual methods of eating shrimp. Finally, there are the small, quiet moments that Tati would’ve smiled at in approval, like the nice little scene between Bazil and a serving lady that plays out like one from a silent comedy. Yet it isn’t all fun and games, as the film dutifully allots some attention to the real-world issue of war- and weapons-related tragedies and the careless entities responsible for them.
However, even as Micmacs ventures into serious territory, it remains packed with delights from beginning to end. The elaborate schemes, cons and plans of sabotage carried out by the team of misfits are the stuff of a first-rate caper movie. As usual, Jeunet keeps the stylistic flourishes coming strong, including great little animated segments that illustrate the random questions Bazil forces himself to ponder whenever his bullet-addled brain acts up. Cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata provides a flood of lush colors and striking images such as the one showing blood trickling down a recently-shot, wide-eyed Bazil’s face. There are these plus countless other things ripe for discovery, including the funniest Travis Bickle impersonation since Vincent Cassel hammed it up in front of a mirror in La Haine.
Micmacs à tire-larigot is currently playing in France and will be released in the UK on February 26th, 2010. While the official release date for Canada is still currently undetermined (though Sony Pictures Classics has acquired it for U.S. and Latin American distribution), hopefully audiences won’t have to wait too long to dig into the latest feast to come out of Monsieur Jeunet’s kitchen.