DIRECTED BY: Jean Pierre-Jeunet
FEATURING: Dany Boon, Julie Ferrier, Dominique Pinon, André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié
PLOT: After video store clerk Bazil gets a stray bullet to the head and survives, he joins
up with a ragtag group of trash sorters who help him conspire in a prank war against rival arms manufacturers.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Micmacs is a sweet, whimsical, and slightly surreal comedy, but it never reaches truly bizarre status. For the most part its story and characters make sense, all set in a world not exceedingly different from our own.
COMMENTS: Once again Jean-Paul Jeunet effortlessly slips his audience into an anachronistic, slightly off-color world with wacky characters and ingenious devices, and this time he even manages to work in some anti-war (or at least, anti-weapons) statements. As a filmmaker his strengths reside in his fantastic visual aesthetic and dedication to interesting characters, but not necessarily effective storytelling. These characteristics apply to Micmacs, as the story is interesting but confusingly structured and underdeveloped. It takes a while to really come together, with several curt scenes following one right after the other until the fun fully starts when Bazil joins the energetic trash heap crew. Once everything gets going, the movie becomes a very enjoyable and unpredictable comedy complete with goofy disguises, high-concept stratagems, and plenty of breaking and entering.
The characters are fun and detailed—quirky but not in the annoying “indie-cliche” way. They all have their own talents and interests that lend them their nicknames, and there are some imaginative schemes that involve everyone working together and putting their specific skills to use in unexpected ways. The cast is excellent, as everyone imbues his or her personage with emotion and a good dose of silliness. Dany Boon exudes a sort of hapless confusion coupled with a go-to spirit, while Dominique Pinon manages to always stand out in anything. Omar Sy has some of the best comedic moments as Remington, a wannabe anthropologist obsessed with idioms. Julie Ferrier shines as the outspoken contortionist, and both Nicolas Marié and André Dussollier put in delightfully devious turns as the villainous CEOs.
While clearly the film is quite character-heavy, the ensemble works so well together that no one is lost in the shuffle, and the focus remains on Bazil to ground the story. The script is funny and lighthearted but not fluffy, and of course the visuals are breathtaking: it’s filmed in slight sepia hues with an array of innovative gadgets and home-made clothes, and everything has a very homey, lived-in feel. The atmosphere is slightly surrealistic and kooky and the characters are instantly lovable. Incorporating a clear penchant for high-concept stratagems and offbeat humor, Micmacs is an unavoidably cute diversion from the real world with a few narrative weaknesses.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Some of the extravagant visual eccentricity of [Jeunet’s] debut feature, ‘Delicatessen’ (still his best and strangest film), of which he was co-director, is echoed in the smoky streetscapes, weird mechanical gizmos and comic-grotesque human figures on display here. But his pacing is more deliberate, almost classical in its precise calibration of cause and effect… the film roams and rambles and sometimes stalls, straining for a charm that should come effortlessly.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
NOTE: This review is published in a slightly different form at Film Forager.