Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Hijinks Ensue

By Jonathan Pacheco
I've grown somewhat suspicious of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, wondering if my immediate excitement for his films exists because he does quality work or rather because the French filmmaker knows how to push my cinematic buttons. Here's a director with flair, his films vibrantly and dynamically shot, his scenes painted using lush color palettes, special effects fearlessly integrated into his worlds, which are populated with an array of quirky, endearing characters. To the modern quasi-hippie dabbling in foreign films, Jeunet is an absolute darling. I suspect that his demonstrative style, on full display in Micmacs, represents a new, more appealing idea of French cinema to the demographic turned off by the "boring" stereotypes of talkative, avant-garde, cerebral pictures littered with black turtlenecks.

Bazil (Dany Boon), after receiving an accidental (but nonlethal) bullet to the head one night, comes out of the hospital jobless and homeless, but fortunately is taken in by a band of near-nauseatingly quirky misfits that might as well belong to a touring circus. The mathematically brilliant, reserved, wide-eyed, smooth-skinned Audrey Tautou substitute, the rough, leather-skinned ox with a forehead like a two-story brick house, the spry, bird-like old man with a honking nose for a beak, adorable in his energy and kindness — it's like Jeunet was thumbing through his Rolodex of "Zany Characters That Make for Great Close-Ups." They exist only out of a certain necessity, as each of their designated "skills" will be needed later on for some of the plot's Ocean's 11-style antics.

Jeunet's camera makes love to the characters and the world they inhabit with such intoxicating passion, but it's clear that the film uses the director's trademark pizazz to thrust not a story but a blatant political and moral stance. This film doesn't have a message, it is its message.

Happy to be adopted by his new family of ragtags, Bazil turns to them for help when he makes a shocking discovery: the company responsible for manufacturing the stray bullet lodged in his skull sits across the street from the weapons dealer that created the land mine that blew up his father many years earlier. Of all the luck! Our scruffy, blank-faced hero vows revenge on both company heads for their indirect hands in his life's miseries.

Neither proactively good or bad, Micmacs is satisfied with simply existing as a sort of pacifist propaganda. Conflict is all but missing. Characterization, too. The film is a medley of somewhat amusing hijinks (living up to its full translated title: "Non-Stop Shenanigans") laid on a bed of perceived moral superiority, presented to us with that irresistible Jean-Pierre Jeunet glaze. Sure, it looks tasty, but its empty whimsy does little to satisfy my hunger.

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