By: Jette Kernion, reposted from SXSW 3/13/10
Imagine if filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amelie) took the quirkiest, most whimsical, downright funniest bits out of all his films and then jacked them up to 11. If this idea makes you run out of the room screaming, you are probably not the best audience for Micmacs (aka Micmacs a tire-larigot). But for the rest of us, Micmacs -- loosely translated as "Shenanigans" -- is a delight.
Bazil (Dany Boon) is a young video-store worker whose father died when he stepped on a hidden mine. When Bazil is shot in the head by a bullet meant for someone else, he ends up as a medical miracle ... who has lost his job and his home. Fortunately, he encounters a group of waifs and strays who take him in: an inventor of complex but cute mechanisms, a young woman who can calculate anything in her head (Marie-Julie Baup); a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon); the cook and surrogate mama of the clan (Yolande Moreau), and a woman so flexible she can sleep in the refrigerator (Julie Ferrier). Bazil also discovers the headquarters of the company that created the bullet that injured him, and the mine that killed his father, and has to decide how to deal with these entities and their directors.
The plot is a little thin and often verges on the ridiculous. However, as with other Jeunet movies, the supporting characters are the attraction in Micmacs. Jeunet has compared them to the toys in the Toy Story movies, and in fact, it helps if you envision this movie as a kind of live-action Pixar film made for grownups with a twisted sense of humor. It took me a little time to warm up to the Elastic Woman (I'm fighting the urge to call her Elastigirl), and at one point I thought a certain violent scene went too far -- until the movie shows us that it wasn't as violent as I'd thought.
The clever and occasionally surreal script was written by Jeunet and his collaborator from Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, Guillaume Laurent. Dany Boon is good as a character that starts out silent and almost brooding, but then, as his circumstances change, shows off a hidden and imaginative side of himself. I especially enjoyed watching Dominique Pinon as the human cannonball -- Pinon has been in all of Jeunet's films and even his smallest roles are always memorable.
Micmacs is a movie that is saturated in movie references, characters quoting movies and imitating actions from films, and even contemporary moviemaking itself. Jeunet has admitted to references to Pixar, Buster Keaton and Mission Impossible, but I also could have sworn I saw Eddie Murphy's disguise from the train sequence in Trading Places. Bazil is watching The Big Sleep in the beginning -- hearing Bogart and Bacall dubbed into French is bizarre -- and the score from that film segues into a score that is a pastiche of Max Steiner music from a number of Warner Brothers films. One brief moment updates another of Jeunet's earlier films. And in the ultimate odd self-referential moment, characters drive past billboards advertising the movie Micmacs. It doesn't matter whether you get all these references -- I'm sure I didn't -- but you definitely feel like you're soaked in moviedom.
Micmacs is possibly Jeunet's silliest film, which is saying something -- less dark than Delicatessen, less romantic than Amelie or A Very Long Engagement. Its playfulness is engaging and contagious and takes over any seriousness of story or plot. This could wear thin in a longer movie, but it's 105 minutes ... and I didn't check my watch once.