I am very excited about this one; Jeunet is in my top 5, for sure.
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Cinephiles adore French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet for pictures like "The City of Lost Children," and "Delicatessen" (not so much "Alien Resurrection"), but it was 2001's deliriously wonderful "Amelie," that truly cemented his stature on the international map. As TIFF says it is one of the most "unquestionably popular films of the last decade," which is completely true.
The director and his romantic, hyper-capricious and imaginative filmmaking return with his very first film since 2004's "A Very Long Engagement." This new one, "Micmacs" — a picture which was on our Most Anticipated of 2009 list — is evidently a satirical film about the gun trade and warring arms dealers.
The picture also features many of Jeunet's regulars and well-renowned French actors like the wonderful Dany Boon in the leading role (the French dramedy, "My Best Friend," which is being adapted into English by Wes Anderson) André Dussollier (a favorite of Alain Resnais), Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau (the award-winning actress of "Séraphine") and the pug-faced Dominique Pinon (a regular of almost every Jeunet film).
But you'd be excused if you dismissed "Micmacs" as being totally derivative of Jeunet's past works as it picks up exactly where "Amelie" left off perhaps adding almost nothing to to the conversation.
A contortionist who can hide in a fridge; a bullet lodged in a man's forehead that doesn't kill him; a human calculator that can compute complex mathematical distances, wind resistances, etc. in her head; a motley crew family of funny-looking junkyard denizens and the Guinness world's record holder for human cannonball distances: these are just some of the many wacky, whimsical and sometimes contrived elements of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest efforts, "Micmacs à Tire-Larigot" (or simply "Micmacs," expect a U.S.-friendly title when it arrives stateside).
So this is to say the Jeunet's fantastically stimulating and utterly unique world is enjoyable yet played out, predictable and bordering on cliche and shtick.
Similar tonally, narratively and stylistically to all his past works ("Delicatessen," "City Of Lost Children"), aside for maybe, "Alien Resurrection," "Micmacs" centers on Bazil (Danny Boon) an unassuming, seemingly carefree adult who works as a video store clerk. But before we can even get into his world, we're told his prologue that centers on his father - a WWII-era bomb disposal soldier who lost his life after accidentally stepping on a landmine. Bazil is sent off to an orphanage and then we flash forward to present day when watching Howard Hawks films is interrupted and life is transformed when an errant bullet from an car chase outside lands in our protagonist's forehead.
But rather than being instantly killed, he miraculously survives, but surgeons unfortunately can't dislodge the shell without possibly causing irreparable or fatal damage. Bazil is told he must be careful because even a bump on the forehead can lethally jolt the slug. When he recovers and comes back to work he finds out his ungrateful boss has replaced him and that's that. Penniless and without work, he is soon out on the street sadly trying to be prideful about taking food for the homeless.
Eventually he finds his way to a junkyard that houses a resourceful ad-hoc family of misfits and outcasts (of course, this is a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film after all) who create all kinds of gadgets for living with their offbeat ingenuity. Grateful and accepted into his new domicile, Bazil works to bring home junk that the collective can turn into colorful sculptures, fanciful tools and other quirky tchotckes, but during his travels he accidentally stumbles onto information that gives him two key clues: the arms dealer that made the bullet lodged in his head (represented by André Dussollier) and the war mongers who manufactured the bomb (quick flashes on memory bubbles of course) that killed his father (repped by Nicolas Marie) are situated adjacent from one another.
Through the help of his rag-tag group of friends (Julie Ferrier, Dominique Pinon, Michel Crémadès, Yolande Moreau, Marie-Julie Baup, etc.), a plot is hatched to bring the death merchants down and eventually turn them into warring factions against one another.
This is where the story truly starts and so the quixotic, magical film is revealed to have some serious, political overtones, but they never really feel underlined or even rather deep until the end of the picture. This is also the part of the film which is really make or break for audiences (and audiences at TIFF seemed to go ape for this giving it a standing ovation, but that's not really an indication of much, frankly). Many will go with "Micmacs" fantastical, clever and creative world, and the execution of the complex, picturesque scheme and the way they're all intricately interwoven is charming. But others — particularly critics tired of Jeunet's samey-stylistic conventions and cloying conceits — may not, as these clockwork-like manipulations go down exactly the same way Audrey Tautou tries to do-good in "Amelie," by matchmaking and acting as guardian angels to the other characters in the film.
A love story does unfold which didn't have to be there (it's actually an OK touch), there are complications along the way (the arms factions finally find out that all this intrigue is Bazil's doing), but generally there are no surprises. Though the message-heavy ending illustrating children horribly injured by landmines and other acts of war is both slightly moving and heavy-handed.
Technically, there is no one other than Jean-Pierre Jeunet. His camera whips and pans around with lightning precision, his framings (replete with myriad wide-angle lenses! of course) are exquisite, his set design is non-pareil and his texture-rich cinematography is breathtakingly delicate and refined. The music (this time written by newcomer Raphaël Beau) — plus the excellent reprised work of legendary Academy-Award-winning composer Max Steiner ("Gone with the Wind," King Kong," "The Big Sleep") — is also wonderful. But the fact remains is that all these elements feel very calculable and familiar.
Though Jeunet did attempt new things with "A Very Long Engagement" and "Alien Resurrection," both of those films didn't quite work, so you can understand why he went back to his tried and true formula, but make no mistake as wondrous, endearing and unique as it all can be, it is a formula —and sometimes a cloying one — that he has down to a rather stiff science. [B]