There is something wonderfully reassuring about the look of Micmacs as its distinctive style informs you right away that you are about to once more be treated to a larger-then-life view of the world that belongs to French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie). The cluttered settings, the retro look to all the objects, the dramatic close-ups and the distorting wide-angle lens all recall the look of Jeunet’s previous films, in particular the two features he made with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. There is even a brief tribute to the saw and cello-playing heroes from Delicatessen and as in all of Jeunet’s films the rubber faced actor Dominique Pinon appears.
In Micmacs Jeunet casts Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks) as the gentle and good-natured Bazil who conspires to deliver justice to the two weapon-manufacturing corporations that are directly responsible for two key moments of trauma in his life. Boon is wonderful and his slightly awkward yet very noble persona shapes him into something of a more heroic and attractive version of Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot character, were M. Hulot ever to embark on a feel-good quest for revenge.
The world that Jeunet creates for Micmacs is based around the ensemble of second-hand dealer characters who live in a junkyard and help Bazil. Unfortunately these characters don’t all get adequate screen time to really endear themselves to the audience and a reoccurring problem with Micmacs is that the over abundance of narrative and visual details do get a bit lost in the mix. While much of the pleasure of Micmacs is watching the various elaborate scams against the weapon manufacturers play out, there are also extraneous moments and the film is overlong.
The cluttered and patchy feel to aspects of Micmacs does relate to the fact that the film itself is a collage of ‘found objects’ from other films. The junkyard setting and underworld of homeless scavengers recall Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King while the storyline concerning Bazil bringing down the two weapons manufacturers by tricking them into fighting each other, evokes Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo plus all the other variations since including Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. The hyperactive slapstick nature of the action draws upon the silent comedy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin with the slightly surreal aesthetic of Tex Avery’s cartoons, which are directly referenced in the film.
Jeunet’s wild referencing to other films and film styles is often fun but lacks purpose and doesn’t always resonate. For example, music by the legendary film composer Max Steiner, in particular his score from Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, is used throughout Micmacs and while it sounds great it is simply a stylistic flourish rather than a significant homage. Micmacs is still a fun film with great performances and plenty of inventive sequences but it’s not one of Jeunet’s better films.
It looks like the biggest budget that Jeunet has had to play with, and play he’s certainly doing. With Warner Bros. behind him, it seems he’s playing to a wider audience (ie, more family friendly) and so, while it’s quite funny, it lacks some of the bite of his earlier films. I think Jeunet fans (like myself) will still find much to like, if a little disappointing, though it should find that wider audience who will probably love it.
Man, I reckon that none of Jeunet’s films are really all that great. He’s a talented visual stylist but his films are really sugary confections with no nutritional value. Amelie: cute but cliched Yoplait advertisement. A Very Long Engagement: almost Oscar-baitish in its emotional manipulation. Alien Resurrection: Enough said. Not looking forward to this one.
I’ll agree with you on A Very Long Engagement and I long ago came to terms with the fact that I’m significantly in the minority for liking Alien Resurrection but I am still fond of Amelie, although I was amused to find that most French people I know don’t like it in the same way to how many Australians don’t like Crocodile Dundee.
However, before you write Jeunet off completely have you seen the two films he did with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children? They are fabulous films and I would even go as far to say that Delicatessen is one of my favourite films from the last twenty years.
Well yeah, I reckon his work with Caro is certainly more interesting than his “solo” work since.
Yeah, Delicatessen is a blast. But I also feel similarly about Amelie. I’m sure those that don’t like it find it twee, but I thought it was just about as perfect a romantic comedy as you’ll find. I saw it months before the hype of its release, which I think undermined the experience of seeing it.
I hardly remember A Very Long Engagement other than vague recollections of it being contrived and slow. I need to see City of Lost Children again, but I recall that being quite imaginative, in a dark humorous sort of way.
Delicatessen was one of the very first foreign films I ever saw and from that moment I was hooked.
Very much looking forward to seeing this movie.
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