Micmacs (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Micmacs (2009)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Danny INDIFFERENTThere is a fine art to mixing comedy with tragedy; on one hand you have The Great Dictator or Dr. Strangelove, both remarkable satires on war and genocide, but on the other you'll have something like War, Inc. or American Dreamz, heavy handed and plodding excuses that take broad swipes at easy targets. To be honest, most of the time I'd say the attempt is almost always more noble than the end result; if there's anything you want to applaud filmmakers for, it would have to be to at least try and wring some laughs out of the deadly serious.

Even Director Jean Pierre-Jeunet is no stranger to this field; look back to his 2004 film A Very Long Engagement to see him mixing the horrors of trench warfare to a sweet tale of a naive woman unraveling the mystery of her missing fiance. That movie worked, mostly because of the unflinching look at the violence of trench warfare and the wide eyed sweetness of star Audrey Tatou helped to sell it. I can't say that the film was a complete success, but it was sumptuous and dazzling, two qualities missing from the film I'm talking about today.

I guess I'm getting bogged down already; Micmacs (though apparently the 'S' is not pronounced) is the story of an unlucky young man man. After his father is killed by a landmine, young Bazil is packed away to a harrowing boarding school. As an adult, he's quiet and reserved. He's tending  to a videostore one night when he is accidentally shot in the head by a misfired gun. A surgeon decides to leave the bullet in, making this decision by way of a coin toss.

Jeunet is a lover of moments like this; little incidents of random chance that lead to similarly quirky fates. The opening scenes of Amelie where a narrator muses about the mundane minutiae occurring around Amelie's quest or the scene where Amelie describes the world to a blind man as she is overcome with joy are both indicative of the director's love of heaping on the unusual and banal and exemplifying them to noteworthy or sometimes extraordinary.

In Micmacs, shortly after Bazil is released from surgery, we see a scene of him trying to get back his hat from a group of kids who wound up with it after his hospital stay. He does a quick variation of hand clap and snap, and the kids try desperately try to mimic him. He shakes his head, coming closer, and does it again. They desperately try but end up giggling, allowing him to snatch his hat back in victory.

It's little scenes like that that work in the movie; Jeunet gets a lot of mileage from visual gags, and, when not those, then from the faces of his supremely expressive actors. A handful of his regulars return (including my favorite, Dominique Pinon) and form a group of curiosity and antique dealers that decide to adopt the struggling Bazil. They run the range of the wacky team stereotypes: a kind hearted old crook, a madcap inventor, a human calculator, an old daredevil with a chip on his shoulder, an Ethiopian with a fondness for idioms, a contortionist who develops a liking, and the round, jolly faced old woman who keeps them all together.

If that sounds kind of wordy, I should warn you that that's about as deep as these characters will get. They mostly function to be Basil's elite impossible missions force for his quest to bring down two munitions companies. These two companies, one responsible for the father's landmine and the other responsible for his bullet, are both large, prosperous companies and both, in a humorously improbably move, located across the street from one another.

So Bazil develops a plan to play the companies against each other, aiming at their respective CEOs. One is a distant father who falls asleep on the couch and keeps four expensive sports cars in the front driveway that he doesn't dare touch. The other is a meticulous collector of the body parts of expired celebrities; Marylin Monroe's toenail clippings and Louis the XIV's heart were the two I found the most memorable.

And so we watch the movie unfold as the two men slowly lose their sanity while Bazil and his gang deconstruct their organizations with plans wacky enough to rival Dick Dastardly or the board game Mousetrap. Don't read this as dismissive; the film has a warm sense of humor most of the time, and some of the repeated gags, like Bazil driving past posters for the movie itself or cute homages to films like Metropolis or Once Upon a Time in the West work and feel natural. And the warmth of their strange family never feels forced, and little moments, like watching the calculator and the contortionist vie for Bazil's affections, work splendidly.

But it's when the movie moves towards its darker material that it started to lose focus. As the stakes are raised, Bazil and his gang are still gifted with a supernatural ability to plan; even when things go awry, it's too goofy to indicate any sort of real danger. This leaves the villains feeling toothless, robbing them of the immediacy of their actions, and, worse yet, making them so hopelessly outmatched that you almost risk sympathizing with them.

The ending scene, where the CEOs confess their misdeeds, is particularly chilling and kind of brilliant in a way. Though no one will be fooled about who are behind the burkas, it's still a stark scene of two men forced to confront the ugliness of what they do. If either of them had any depth at all,  it might have given the film some weight.

But no. Our heroes get their victory, bad guys get punished, the storybook closes. Arms dealers of the world be wary of cute teams of misfits pulling off improbably daring feats.

The film has the same honey and green glass tones as every Jeunet film has had, but toned down into something less dazzling and more functional. And his sense of magical realism, while charming, doesn't mesh as well here as it did before. I can't say the film  hit too close to home for me, but rather, perhaps, just a little too far from it.

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Micmacs (2009)

Directed by Jean Pierre-Jeunet

Written by Jean Pierre-Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant

Starring Dany Boon and Julie Ferrier

Posted by Danny

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