Appellate Judge James A. Stewart regrets that he hasn't met any pretty contortionists lately.
Our review of Micmacs (Blu-Ray), published December 9th, 2010, is also available.
"A bullet in the head? Something to remember us by."
How would I describe Micmacs (actually, Micmacs à Tire-Larigot to audiences in its native France)? Let's see. Imagine a Burn Notice episode directed by Jacques Tati. This story of an outrageous plan to take down arms dealers is told in a series of pantomime sketches, with minimal, non-essential dialogue. Throw in stylized visuals that evoke memories of Pushing Daisies for good measure.
On the other hand, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who directed both Amelie and Alien: Resurrection) told an audience at the Tribeca Film Festival that Once Upon a Time in the West was a major influence on Micmacs, and a clip from The Big Sleep shown within the movie might suggest that there was noir on Jeunet's mind.
Whatever. Just get ready for little talk and big weirdness.
Facts of the Case
Bazil (Dany Boon, The Valet) is working—or rather watching movies—at the video store where he works when there's a commotion outside. He goes out to investigate and promptly gets shot in the head from a falling gun, part of the collateral damage from a deadly high-speed chase. After the doctors decide (by a coin flip) not to remove the bullet from his brain, Bazil goes home to find his apartment and job filled by others. He is given a bullet which could be a clue. Eventually, Bazil meets up with the unusual tinkerers who live in a secret chamber hidden under a huge pile of junk. Together, they come up with a plan to take down the company that made the bullet in Bazil's brain, not to mention its rivals and a would-be dictator.
Micmacs is mostly about watching the outrageous schemes—such as delivering a contortionist in a box to the apartment of an armaments firm boss to poke around—turn out surprisingly well. They're spying, stealing weapons, and playing the various sides against each other, and they're barely noticed. This I realized when one of the schemes—involving a human cannonball—momentarily goes off course, literally. There's some actual suspense at the end, when rival arms dealers, the would-be dictator's men, and Bazil's gang finally land in the same place at the same time, but mostly it's just about the laughs.
Dany Boon, who as Bazil is simple-looking but fairly sharp, is a natural for this sort of thing, even without the Chaplinesque homage of constantly adjusting his cardboard sheet as he sleeps in the open air, trying to keep the big toe poking out of his worn socks covered. Watch Boon play a children's game to distract them as he plots to steal back the hat they stole from him or try to bluff his way into the office of an armaments boss, and you can't help but laugh. Boon also has a great recurring gag, using random thoughts ("Why is your destination always in the map's fold?") to focus. Jean-Pierre Jeunet uses Terry Gilliam-style animation to illustrate these thoughts, making it particularly memorable.
Each of the supporting cast gets a good scene in, but it's the ladies who leave the strongest impressions, from Julie Ferrier (Mr. Bean's Vacation) as the contortonist who barely conceals her interest in Bazil as she insists on joining the caper, to Marie-Julie Baup (Angel of Mine) as the bespectacled math whiz who works out the numbers of each step, to Yolande Moreau (Amélie) as Mama Chow, who leads the band of tinkerers that joins Bazil in his quest.
You'll notice production design a lot in Micmacs, from the way the two skyscrapers of the rival arms dealers loom toward the sky, just across the square from each other, to the pile of junk that serves as the tinkerers' headquarters, to the rooftops bathed in moonlight against a swirl of fog. The overall effect is like a dystopian fairy tale, heavy on subdued browns and yellows. The picture's sharp and clear, so you'll be able to catch plenty of detail.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivers a lively commentary, mentioning everything from the Easter eggs in the film itself (movie posters for Micmacs in the background) to his homages to Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin, among others. He also points out some interesting use of CGI.
The Making of Micmacs takes a leisurely 47 minutes to follow Jean-Pierre Jeunet through the moviemaking process. Among the snapshots of the production: Audrey Tautou (Amélie) visiting the set, a gathered crowd being quieted before filming begins, showing the unfinished film to a test audience, and a glimpse of the actual contortionist who stands in for Julie Ferrier. In "Q&A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Actress Julie Ferrier," taped at a Tribeca Film Festival, Jeunet does most of the talking, including mentioning that he actually knows a man with a bullet in his brain. There's also a breakdown of one of the animated sequences and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Audiences in the United States might consider Charlie Chaplin-style pantomime family fare, but Micmacs is definitely aimed at adults. The violence isn't R-rated, but the nudity and sexual acts shown briefly are.
I'll have to admit that a modern French near-silent film is a must-see for me. Throw in a caper plot, and you've made my evening. Jean-Pierre Jeunet has the visual comic style down pat, so Micmacs is worth tracking down, even if it's in the fold of your map.
Not guilty, although viewers might get nervous the next time they watch The Big Sleep.
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