The summer drought is over. If you’ve been yearning for a truly original, totally different, indelibly charming film, wait no more. MicMacs is here.
Actually it’s been here since its U. S. release in 2010. The fact that it received so little attention by the press is beyond me.
Filmed in Paris and Morocco, this delightfully French film was conceived and created by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. If Jeunet’s name sounds familiar, it is no doubt because he brought us Amelie, another ice cream scoop of a film.
While the story lines are a world apart, the two movies do have a few things in common. You’ll recognize Jeunet’s signature golden color palate, the unusually-framed shots, and a decidedly minimalist approach to dialogue.
Like Woody Allen, Jeunet tends to draw from a similar troupe of versatile actors and locations. As a result, Amelie fans will recognize several of that film’s cast members – and backdrops in this one.
When his star (a Jeunet regular) opted out just weeks before filming, the writer/director called up Dany Boon, who you may remember from Joueux Noel, a Christmas cordial, and former picsandpans2 ‘pic’. Though Boon’s name goes above the title, this is very much an ensemble piece, with all of the characters participating in the film’s micmacs or shenanigans.
Juenet is playful director—the ‘Where’s Waldo’ of the cinema set, placing posters for MicMacs (the very movie you are watching) throughout the film. They are offered up in the same spirit as the late Al Hirshfeld’s “Nina’s”, giving the viewer one more way to relax and enjoy the show.
Juenet’s career roots are firmly planted in the world of animation, influencing the way he approaches every aspect of the film, from the sets to the actions and reactions of the cast. And while MicMacs is far from what I would call slapstick, there are scenes that will no doubt remind viewers of a certain age of those classic cartoons, where characters were whacked, whirled and twirled like tops, with only a few well-drawn stars circling around their heads to show for it. You’ll also be treated to a few bits and pieces of that old and stylized animation, including one sequence reminiscent of the opening of the much-loved PBS Mystery series.
Ever the jokester, Juenet tosses in two-to-three second bits of merriment for his fans, as when a microphone meant to spy on one man, is dropped down the chimney of another, picking up a conversation pulled directly from the soundtrack of Juenet’s 1991 film, Delicatessen.
Of course, you don’t have to have seen any of Juenet’s prior films to enjoy this one. It is a visual delight; with the camera drawing you right into the action—as seen through a wicker box, metal gates, over-sized keyhole, far-reaching binoculars and any number of windows. You’ll squeeze through gates and pipes, tunnels and funnels, and get a bird’s-eye and bug’s-eye view, as cinematographer Teats Nagata’s camera pans, scans and lands on whatever—wherever, and whenever and you least expect it.
At its heart, MicMacs is the story of right over might, a fairy tale for adults in which a group of unlikely comrades use their uncommon talents to serve justice upon two heartless villains, by turning the men against each other.
It begins on a decidedly unfunny note, when, in April of 1979, a French soldier is killed during a failed attempt to defuse a landmine in the Western Sahara desert. Unable to cope, his grieving widow is carried off to the hospital, leaving his son’s fate in the hands of a hell-hole of an institution, where life appears to be unbearable. Whether he escapes or is spirited away is unclear, and unimportant to the storyline. What is important is that unlike his father, Bazil survives to tell the tale.
We find him some thirty years later, clerking at a small neighborhood video store, where he wiles away the hours watching videos on the store’s ancient TV. One night, while watching The Big Sleep (the title, a witty precursor of what‘s to come) a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting comes crashing through the store’s plate-glass window. Racing out the door and onto the sidewalk to see where it came from, our boy is shot in the head by a second bullet.
Miraculously, he survives—mind intact, though the bullet remains precariously lodged inside his head, conjuring up the occasional fantasy the can dissipate with an “I-should- have-had-a-V8”—like pop to his head.
After a brief recuperation period, the young man leaves the hospital, only to find that his landlord has rented his apartment to someone else, and his boss has hired a young lovely in his place.
Back on the street, he is hailed by the store’s new-hire, who hands him a bullet casing she found in close proximity to where he was shot. Sprawled across the casing is the name of the company that manufactured the life-altering bullet.
Hell-bent on revenge, but clueless as to where the arms dealers are located, our hero sets such thoughts aside, spending the next two months just trying to survive. By night, he sleeps under the stars, a cardboard box his only blanket. By day, he mime's for coins in a town square, more annoying it seems, than entertaining.
And then, one day, a good-hearted street vendor named Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle) takes the starving artist aside. “Follow me,” he says, “I know a family who’ll adopt you.” With no place to go and nowhere else to turn, the young man follows the old con home.
“Home” in this case turns out to be a cavern-like boarding house/ workshop, carved out of a pile of rubble alongside the railroad tracks. To the outside world it appears to be nothing more than a Tire Larigot, or tire graveyard, but to the seven people who live and work there, it is a place to hang their hats, rest their heads, and feed both body and soul.
They are a decidedly odd but delightful bunch, who, like Disney’s seven dwarfs, have nick names that reflect their individual persona, skill or talent. There’s Buster (Dominique Pinon), a human cannon ball, whose attempts to break various world records have resulted in his being bumped, bruised and busted-up, a contortionist they call Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), and a pint-sized artist named Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès).
Also seated at the family dinner table: Calculator (Marie-Julie Baip), a woman with the uncanny ability to measure and add up all manner of things in her head, Remington (Omar Sy), who speaks in clichés and does the note-taking for the group (his nickname referring to either Frederic Remington, whose western art was seen by some as clichéd, or more probably, the Remington typewriter), and our friend ‘Slammer’, whose death sentence was commuted after the guillotine that was to kill him became fortuitously stuck during what was to be his beheading.
Presiding over her adopted family is the ever-chipper Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau), head of the household and resident cook. It is Mama Chow who ultimately decides who will be welcomed into the fold, and Bazil is welcomed. “Here we salvage gear, sort it and fix it” she says, adding, “Everyone pitches in.”
They are an ingenious bunch,—particularly Tiny Pete, who fashions Rube Goldberg-like contraptions and animatronic figures out of scrap iron, which, along with the family’s other repaired and reconfigured items are presumably sold or put to good use within the compound.
The following day Bazil joins two of the men as they go about their scavenging. After tossing the last of the day’s bounty in the "family" flatbed, he follows behind them in a make-shift car. When several items fall off the truck, he stops to pick them up, only to find himself standing between the headquarters of the two companies that built and sold the ammunition that killed his dad, and forever changed his own life. A quick check in and around the two buildings, and he has all the information he needs to seek his revenge.
When the others learn of his plot and what prompted it, they want ‘in’, not only for Bazil’s sake, but, as Mama Chow says, for ‘all of the mothers who lost kids because of the mines.”
Their target: the companies’ heartless and decidedly warped CEOs. Their plan is a simple one: rather than inflecting punishment on the men themselves, they will pit one against the other, and, as Remington would say, let the chips fall as they may. This is where things get interesting, as each member of the troupe uses his or her special talents to irk, anger and egg the greedy and boastful warmongers on.
To tell you more would spoil the fun, and what fun it is!
As is true with so many things in life, the music in this film, makes it that much richer. The soundtrack is made up of two decidedly different writing styles: a mix and match of Max Steiner’s iconic orchestrations and first time film composer Raphael Beau’s modestly charming musical cues. Add to that a beautifully conceived script, fanciful sets, ingenious direction, exquisite cinematography, brilliant editing, a pitch-perfect ensemble cast, and sculptor Gilbert Peyre’s incredible moving sculptures, and you have one hour-and–forty four minutes of pure cinematic magic.
That said, if you are put off by subtitles, hated Amelie or Juenet’s other films, or are a stickler for the possible and probable, this Bud is definitely not for you. If, however, you love to be surprised and delighted at every preposterous twist and turn, I believe you will adore this marvelously inventive bit of tomfoolery.
A final note: MicMacs is the kind of film the begs to be watched more than once: first for the story, then for Jeunet’s commentary, and again for the sheer fun of it— catching all of well-placed posters, pranks and hijinks that Jeunet built into every frame. Movie buffs will recognize subtle tributes to Keaton, Chaplin, and silent films in general, along with nods to The Big Sleep, Rear Window, Citizen Kane, and TV’s Mission Impossible. In addition to the film itself, the DVD includes a “Making of” video that gives the viewer some idea of what it took to create this small but complex film.