Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review - Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot)

In his new film Micmacs, Jean-Pierre Jeunet fills every frame with the product of his seemingly bottomless imagination. Visual gags both big and small are squeezed into the director's artfully constructed mise-en-scène, making this the kind of film you'll have to see twice in order to catch them all, but that's no hardship with a picture as entertaining as this. Micmacs is a comedy with black roots, beginning as it does with the story of a man whose life was destroyed by the arms trade on two separate occasions. When he was a child, Bazil's father was killed in action as he tried to defuse a landmine, and thirty years on, the unfortunate Bazil (now played by Dany Boon) finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and catches a stray bullet between the eyes. The projectile lodges itself in his brain, and after doctors decide that removing it is too risky (they make the decision on a coin-toss), Bazil is discharged; homeless, jobless and with a bullet in his brain that could kill him at any time.

Despite the potentially dark nature of this premise, Jeunet turns Micmacs into a breakneck farce, with the revenge plan cooked up by Bazil and his eccentric comrades being woven around a series of inventive and often hilarious set-pieces. Bazil wants to take down the two arms companies who were responsible for manufacturing the mine and bullet that cast such a shadow over his life, and to do this he entails the unique abilities of a group of outcasts. The place this collection of misfits call home offers us the first opportunity to enjoy the fastidiously constructed production design, and every shot in this film is gorgeously crafted, with the same lavish care and attention to detail that is always in evidence in Jeunet's work. His usual production team is on board once again here, and a new collaborator, cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata, films the action beautifully. This is a superbly crafted package into which Jeunet seems to have thrown every idea he and co-writer Guillaume Laurant could concoct between them.

There are times, however, when the film feels as if it has more ideas than plot. The narrative is a series of imaginative standalone sequences that strung together at a breathless pace, which Jeunet orchestrates with his typically idiosyncratic, Rube Goldberg-like direction. The story itself is extremely slight, though, and the jaunty tone contrasts sharply with the more serious thrust of the film, undermining the impact that the director wants his climax to have. The ending is perhaps an adventurous stretch too far for Micmacs; it is as cleverly staged as you would expect from Jeunet, but it feels rather forced and unconvincing, putting me in mind of the similarly underwhelming wish-fulfilment finale in Ken Loach's recent Looking for Eric.

Fortunately, such misjudgements are rare in Micmacs, and the film is buoyed along through its occasional thin patches by the excellent cast Jeunet has assembled. Giving a fine, Chaplin-inspired display as Bazil, Dany Boon is amusingly deadpan (if sometimes a little too deadpan), and every member of the rogues' gallery surrounding him has a vital role to play in Jeunet's clockwork plotting scheme. Among the finest performers are Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon as a manic daredevil, Omar Sy as a man who speaks only in proverbs, Michel Crémadès as a deceptively small strongman and inventor, and – best of all
Julie Ferrier as the remarkably flexible contortionist who harbours a crush on Bazil. They're an endearing, entertaining bunch, and it's a pleasure to watch the whole ensemble (including André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié as the arms manufacturers) working on such fine form. You could argue that Micmacs is nothing new from Jeunet, that it's simply a compendium of his favourite tics, gags and references, and that it takes us nowhere the director hasn't taken us before. That may well be true, but is it really worth complaining when the film is so much fun?

Read my interview with Jean-Pierre Jeunet here.