Micmacs, the latest film from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a chaotic revenge caper against two evil arms dealers and the world of pain and death they represent. Imbued with the same enchanting sense of joyful whimsy that characterises Delicatessen, A Very Long Engagement and the beguiling classic Amelie, Micmacs blends tragedy and inventive comedy with Jeunet’s beautifully idiosyncratic visual style to produce a quirkily engaging piece of cinema.
The film begins with the derailment of a young boy’s life – a landmine in Morocco kills his father, and his mother is consumed by her grief. Thirty years later a freak accident ends with a renegade bullet lodged in his brain, and now Bazil (Dany Boon), lives on the brink of sudden death. Adrift and searching for meaning in a world of cruel absurdity, he is adopted by a motley cohort of brilliant misfits who live in a labyrinthine warren under a rubbish dump. The head of this ‘family’ is Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau), who presides over the troupe’s bizarre recycling operation. Helped by seven other eccentrics, including a contortionist called Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier) and Buster the Human Cannonball (Dominique Pinon), Bazil begins to recapture the elusive sense of belonging that he had been robbed of three decades earlier.
When he stumbles across the headquarters of the companies that manufactured the fateful landmine and bullet in his brain, Bazil alights upon his raison d’être. Enlisting his new oddball family he embarks upon an elaborate series of heists, abductions and various other madcap schemes in order to ruin the two companies and the neurotic megalomaniacs who rule them (played with cartoonish verve by Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie).
Chance, or fate, plays a large role in Jeunet’s cinematic visions, and much of the narrative in Micmacs is propelled by convoluted sequences of isolated events which, taken as a whole, have the power to make a magical day or doubly derail a life. Jeunet’s attention to the kooky minutiae of everyday life is present in every frame of the film, and his use of imaginative humour is similarly sophisticated. Drawing upon the comedic legacy of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, Jeunet concocts cleverly paced sequences of slapstick that are inventive, visually dazzling and spectacular in scale.
French comedian Dany Boon is brilliantly cast as the hapless Bazil. Whether he is squeezing La vache qui rit cheese into his mouth with childlike enthusiasm, having mime-offs with youths or feeding yet another microphone down a chimney, Boon brings a magnetism and sincere pathos to the screen. The rest of the cast inhabit their wacky roles with an infectious sense of mirth, and their cheerful exploits, combined with Raphael Beau’s original score, have an amusing air of circus-style abandon to them.
If in the latter half of the film the screenplay grows a little confusing, with an overabundance of tertiary characters and ever more convoluted gags, the charm and spirit of joy that permeates the hullabaloo is enough to warrant our forgiveness. If the film’s politics can seem a trifle forced and naïve, the exquisite use of saturated colour and overall visual appeal of the film more than make up for it.
Micmacs is bold, original and steeped in fun. It entices us into a magical cinematic universe where innocent goodness triumphs over evil duplicity, where romance blossoms amidst the brilliant misfits and refuse. This is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s universe, and it is a wonderful muddle.
Ken Knight is a Melbourne-based writer.