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Avid movie-watcher and video store clerk Bazil has had his life all but ruined by weapons of war. His father was killed by a landmine in Morocco and one fateful night a stray bullet from a nearby shootout embeds itself in his skull, leaving him on the verge of instantaneous death. Losing his job and his home, Bazil wanders the streets until he meets Slammer, a pardoned convict who introduces him to a band of eccentric junkyard dealers including Calculator, a math expert and statistician, Buster, a record-holder in human cannonball feats, Tiny Pete, an artistic craftsman of automatons, and Elastic Girl, a sassy contortionist. When chance reveals to Bazil the two weapons manufacturers responsible for building the instruments of his destruction, he constructs a complex scheme for revenge that his newfound family is all too happy to help set in motion. Written by
The Massie Twins
wacky and vibrant and energetic, but we take it seriously as comic-art
Jean-Pierre Jeunet loves the hell out of being a filmmaker. By this I mean you can just see the how much he enjoys doing everything that a director with a keen visual sense and imagination and admiration for his actors loves doing. Even when I've only somewhat loved his films (Amelie and Alien 4), you can still see that he's working his own kind of world into the medium, a vision that is comparable to others but not really like anyone else in the humor, the directness of the compositions and lighting, the surreal touches and flamboyant qualities of the characters, and how fantastical everything is. Micmacs is no exception, but the key here is that it finds him back in the crazy-great terrain of his early films; I don't think I've been this excited about a project he's done since City of Lost Children. And while this time Micmacs takes place in the 'real' world, I felt like I couldn't be anywhere else except in a Jeunet picture, right from the first surprise explosion onward.
It's a tale of outcasts getting payback, or rather one in a group of them who has very good reason to. At the start of the story Bazil (Dany Boon) doesn't have much, as his family sent him away as a kid after his father died unexpectedly from a land mine explosion by a dastardly weapons manufacturer. But when he's shot by a stray bullet that was made by the same company that killed his father (and the bullet, which hits him in the head but somehow he's saved in the nick of time, stays in his brain), he's let go from his job at the video store from being, you know, presumed dead, and he can't get another work anywhere else. But he catches the eye(s) of a group of misfits and other homeless folks living at a junkyard; we even see their billboards... or perhaps this is just an in-joke. Are they they Micmacs a tire-larigot as a real group, or just... well, you can decide.
What we do know is that Bazil keeps on spying on the nefarious businessmen who were responsible for all of his misery, and then some as weapons manufacturers who deal to any buyers who will pay up. He has some tricky ways of doing it, like microphones and just common snooping, though when the others in the Micmacs group - including Francesse (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), a ex-cannonball man with a once world record, Tambouille (Yolande Moreau) who is the mother figure of the group, and Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier) who is a cheery contortionist - find out his plans, they tell him he'll either do it alone, or altogether with the group. They plan their revenge, but not in the usual fashion of typical violence. For these war-mongers and arms dealers they have an intricate plot worthy of Ocean's Eleven: get the two dealers facing off one another (one of which the steely eyed Nicolas Thibault played by André Dussollier with underlying lunacy to him with his prized "objects" like Marilyn Monroe's molar). It's a game of pranksters, but all serious stuff deep down.
I loved practically every moment of this film, as Jeunet engineers it as a madcap comedy with twists and turns every step of the way. He doesn't forget the nature of the crimes these two villains have perpetrated, but then these become mostly foils for him. Micmacs works its wonders like a cartoon with a touch of a carnival or the circus, or for that matter a silent movie comedy where physical comedy becomes a marvel to watch. Just seeing Pinon when he does his 'cannonball' bit, how it backfires from the unreliability of the scrap-metal, and then his come-back, is a highlight in the movie, particularly what happens with the bees. Jeunet's camera rarely takes a beat to slow down, which is joyful to watch. And the music he uses, from Max Steiner's old Hollywood movie compositions (he opens the movie as well with old-time titles), compliments the madness that ensues very nicely. If I wasn't laughing watching the mayhem ensuing from the Micmacs, I had a big smile over my face.
It might be said that Jeunet is an acquired taste. I'm sure that within the first several minutes of this film just as with Delicatessen and City of Lost Children that you'll know if this is your guy or not. He's interested in the absurd and finding that line in a tightrope walk, all while doing creative movements with his camera, as if this is all real to him and he just needs to keep up with these characters, such as "Calculator" and the "Writer", who is used later by Bazil for great comic effect (an arms dealer with a writer's touch). But what's refreshing, as in Jeunet at his best, is the sense of unpredictability. Even with the light air of comedy, things can become intense and uncertain as to what direction a scene will take, or what character will do what next. This isn't to say the movie gets too twisty, only that the film is refreshingly free of conventions, save for those of the comic-book variety of a gang of outsiders getting their payback.
Hell, Jeunet even gives a little time for romance (or mostly implied until near the end) between Bazil and the contortionist. Nothing inspirational passes him by, and he's firing on all cylinders as a filmmaker in his element: hilarious set-ups and pay-offs, outrageously modulated acting, delirious sights like the puppeteer's work and Bazil's (animated!) brain-exercises, and the occasional wild violence, all in the name of good fun. In fact save for a brief moment of eroticism (not so much nudity except for, well, more like an animated bit of business) it would be perfectly fine for children. Micmacs is what is one of the most overused words in adulation: wonderful.
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