So after nearly a month of Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies, this will be the final scheduled ‘Jeunet’ Review, as both The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and the upcoming Netflix film Big Bug will be Wild Card Reviews showing up when you possibly least expect them, and Alien Resurrection is being reserved for another list entirely. It has been a good month’s viewing, with plenty of reason to return to them in future (and reference from time to time here). But until then, let us wrap this up with a film that is as Jeunet as Jeunet gets. This is Micmacs.
Set in a fantastic version of the modern day (2009) our story revolves around a man named Basil (Played by Dany Boon). Basil has had an interesting life to say the least. He came from a happy, well-off family that was sadly torn apart when his Father, a soldier, was killed by a Land Mine in the West Sahara in 1979. His Mother, now a shell of her former self, sends Basil to a Catholic Boarding School where his situation was so bad that he smuggled himself out and then spends the next 30 or so years living on his own. When we meet Basil again, he is working in a Video Rental Store, where he mostly ‘tests’ the movies while squeezing the processed goo from Cheese Triangles into his mouth and lip syncing movie dialogue (in this case, the 1946’s ‘The Big Sleep’). However his life is forced into change yet again when a shootout happens outside the shop, and Basil gets a bullet in the head. He survives. But is left with the bullet lodged in his cranium that could kill him any time. The incident cost him both his Home and his Job. But at least the girl who replaced him provided some…clues. He ends up living on the streets as a Busker, finding ways to live hand to mouth and putting his performance skills to good use (Seriously, the guy’s a creative genius). One day he meets an ex-con called Slammer (played by the late Jean-Pierre Marielle), and Slammer brings him to Tire-Larigots, a shelter buried under recycling material, where he is introduced to his new family…a bunch of homeless eccentrics with unique talents and are all skilled for a good quality salvaging. Basil then finds out that the company who made the Landmine that killed his Dad and the manufacturer of the Bullet that took his Home and Job were across the road from each other. Basil’s goal in life was clear…He was going to put an end to the arms trade…and he was going to do it like Ocean’s Eleven.
Now to salvage the qualities that either make or tear down the machine:
The Casting of Micmacs’ characters provides us with a whole range of new actors and actresses with fewer (or perhaps simply more subtle) returns from previous films than before. Jeunet apparently tried to get Audrey Tautou to appear as Amelie for an Easter Egg (as Amelie’s future self), but sadly it wasn’t happening. However we got one for Delicatessen, which was lovely. Jeunet staple Dominique Pinon is here playing Buster, a former Human Cannonball. Amelie’s Landlady, Madeleine Wallace (Yolande Moreau) also returns as Mama Chow. André Dussollier, the Narrator of Amelie, plays Nicolas Thibaut de Fenouillet, who runs the Landmine company, and lastly Urbain Cancelier (Collignon, the green grocer in Amelie and The Monk in A Very Long Engagement) plays the security guard of François Marconi’s home. Marconi (played by Nicholas Marie) being the CEO of the Bullet manufacturer. The Acting and the characters can be summed up in three words: Live Action Cartoon. Much like other Jeunet films, everyone plays the equivalent of a very zany cartoon character with their unusual quirks and interactions…and yet their performances are far from cheesy and are genuinely funny. I enjoy Basil. I enjoy Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), Buster, Remington (Omar Sy), Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), Mama Chow, Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès) and Slammer. A big bunch of characters that would brighten everybody’s life if they actually existed. And I also enjoyed the villains, who are just as bizarre as our heroes…the way it should be.
The story…I’ll put it this way. Mic Macs’ story is a bit weaker than other Jeunet films, but the plot, execution, pacing and characters are good enough to disguise this (and possibly distract us from this fact). You are never given time to be bored, and nearly every scene has a hint of madness. When we ask ourselves what the characters want, we know that Basil wants to take down two weapon companies and their respective CEOs. But the other characters are rather more obscure in their pursuits. We could say that their goal is to help Basil, because if he didn’t come into their lives they would still be salvaging recycled materials and creating stuff – and if you left it at that, you would be satisfied. But if you sought deeper meaning in a way, the question can be answered by the even broader spectrum of supporting characters. So here goes; Love, or the desire for it, wins the war, or at least defeats evil. Elastic Girl (who is very instrumental in the espionage scenes) is drawn to Basil. Key employees in the two weapon companies were responsible for destroying them, because one wanted to watch the couple across the road through the security camera, while the other took his visiting girlfriend to a quiet place, away from the action.
The artistic approach remains exquisite. It has Jeunet’s usual trademarks, but in this case it is set in the modern day rather than being a fantasy world or a period piece. Everybody wears clothes that never go out of fashion (as far ass I know), have haircuts and styles that wouldn’t be too out of place in the last 40 years (Sweaters, dresses, Work shoes, converse trainers, the like).
The music was a combination of classical and original score with a hint of other film music. The original score was done by Raphaël Beau, a music teacher. This was the first time he composed for a film, and also recorded music professionally. He did a really good job. The film also borrows music by Max Steiner, which was originally composed for the 1946 film The Big Sleep (starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall).
The cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata is a small step away to a degree from what we can come to associate with Jeunet’s work. He brings his own style, while still using the warm filters that brings out the reds, yellows and greens (while making blue appear specially). He had gained some traction after providing working on La Vie en Rose (starring A Very Long Engagement actress, Marion Cotillard) and his seemingly effortless camera work brought in many great shots.
Would I recommend Micmacs? Yes I would. But I would recommend seeing some other Jeunet films first in order to get a feel for the style. Because this film is Jeunetism turned up to eleven. All of the weirdest, brightest, quirkiest, most colourful and most nostalgic qualities of his previous films have been thrown into this one with an unapologetic boldness. Jeunet himself even said in an interview (in retaliation to people not liking his style) that what he does is his product: “I sell Fish. If you want Vegetables, go to that guy over there!”, more or less. It knows exactly what it is, and even though it has the weakest story of all the Jeunet films we’ve seen up to this point (minus Alien Resurrection), it remains a highly enjoyable experience that I continue to adore. If possible, I would love to see more stories involving the Micmacs crew, because I see great potential there. A Band Desiree, perhaps?
CGI/Special Effects: ****1/2