Oct-Dec 2010 Screenings
(Mic Macs - A Tire L'Arigot)
2010 - Jean-Pierre Jeunet - 1 hr 40 mins - France
Fri 8 Oct 2010 at 8.30 p.m.
MacNamaras Pub, Scarriff
Midnight Court Rating: 4.0 (1 votes)
Cast: Dany Boon, Andre Dussolier, Nicolas Marie, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Julie Ferrier
Storyline: Fans of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's utterly beguiling Amelie will recognise the moment in Micmacs when, at his father's funeral, young Bazil is given a box of personal effects that include bits of the landmine that killed his dad. Years later, in the street one day, the grown-up Bazil recognises the logo of the company that made the landmine. Coincidentally, it's the same company that manufactured the stray bullet that accidentally shot him in the head as he was standing in the door of his video-rentals shop one day, reciting the dialogue of The Big Sleep. The bullet has remained inoperably embedded in his skull and could still kill him at any moment. There in the Paris street, he resolves to take his revenge on the arms dealers whose products totalled his old man and speared his cerebellum.
Amelie, the titular heroine of Amelie, also came upon a box of personal curiosities one day, the childish belongings of a complete stranger, in a hole behind one of the tiles in her bathroom. Finding it inspired her to set out on a quest to find the owner and return his missing childhood, as part of her project to do good works for everyone she meets.
Two quests, from two cabinets of curiosities. It's tempting to characterise Jeunet's films as being themselves boxes of tricks, in which random props, heterogenous ideas, mix-and-match genres, bits of film history, allusions and snatches of music are thrown together, to be rummaged through and picked out again by their capricious owner. If that makes him sound like a clever schoolboy, there's some truth in it. In an interview, he admitted that Toy Story and Mission Impossible are potent influences on his new film, which pitches an awkward gang of freakish pals against a massive corporate machine. It's conducted along slightly childish lines: the Secret Seven takes on the Military-Industrial Complex.
Bazil, unemployed and on the street, is taken up by a bearded ex-convict who introduces him to a family of secondhand dealers who live in a kind of metallic Ali Baba cave on a rubbish dump and exist by salvaging. There's Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau) who lost both her daughters in the hall of mirrors at a fair one day, and now mothers everyone; Elastic Girl, a blonde contortionist who sleeps in the fridge; Remington, a Congolese ethnographer who types all day and speaks entirely in French proverbs; Calculette, an idiot-savant girl with a tiny head, huge eyes and the ability to compute sizes, distances and sounds; Buster (Dominique Pinon, a Jeunet regular) who holds the world record for being a human cannonball...
You get the idea. Somewhere between Tod Browning's vengeful freaks in Freaks and the cast of TV's Hustle, this band of brothers mimics the conventions of filmic superheroes to outwit the arms dealers. They each have useful powers, but their ensemble scenes are played for laughs rather than logic. At an airport, they employ African robes, salami, a razor and a suitcase with a secret trapdoor to have an African dictator's henchman framed for drugs. At the arms dealers' headquarters, they use microphones, a vacuum cleaner and the contortionist in a box to steal the chairman's collection of celebrity body parts, including Churchill's nail clippings, while the man in charge of security CCTV is distracted by the sight of the sexual contortions at a neighbouring window.
This may strike you as too wacky and zany to be funny, and there are indeed moments when the French sense of humour is lost on les Anglais. But Jeunet's imagination skips about with such alacrity, it's hard to resist. His pacing is fantastic. Little jokes whizz past you all the time, in the style of Wallace and Gromit. As his characters motor down a road beside the Seine, they pass an advertisement for the film they're in, a still of the moment you're watching. When Bazil tries to stop himself falling asleep by thinking of money, a section of his brain chatters with a cascade of cash. The digital special effects jostle with real-life special effects – such as the scrap-metal cave in which the secondhand dealers live, or the outburst of complex finger-clickings in which Bazil indulges, like a hip-hop prestidigitator or a fond uncle, to amuse the local kids.
Dany Boon, who plays Bazil, is an extraordinary actor. He started life as a mime and currently stars in the biggest thing on French TV, Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis. He goes in for weird, untranslatable vocalisations and a repertoire of shrugs and facial contortions that I took to be entirely Gallic until – a eureka moment – I realised he was doing Charlie Chaplin. Picture the scene in The Gold Rush when Chaplin makes two potatoes dance with the aid of forks and you have le style Dany Boon: whimsical, cute and just slightly slappable. His burgeoning romance with the elastic contortionist – who complains that, for him, she exists somewhere between a freak and a tomboy – has a lot of Chaplin about it too.
Jeunet is a master of comic-strip filming, the kind we associate with the Coen brothers of Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, and with the Terry Gilliam of Brazil or Baron Munchausen. Nobody beats him for sheer comic inventiveness and the speed with which he whips ideas into crazy reality. The only problem with his approach is that black humour clearly isn't enough for him.
For all its comic genius, Micmacs also tries to achieve a comic pathos that sometimes seems a substitute for genuine feeling. All the ingenious metal inventions, the freakish physical bending and stretching, the juvenile trickery, achieve diminishing returns. When, at the end, an old inventor shows us a little frock being made to dance by twirling a hanger, we may be forgiven for thinking, "Yes yes, very sweet, very cute, but what's happened to the story?" Otherwise, it's a crazy Gallic ride.
– John Walsh, The Independent
Verdicts from the Midnight Court