Jul 7 2010

Micmacs: A Tire-Larigot

Light-hearted fun, but not much else. 2.5 out of 4

“Micmacs” is a French word similar to “knick-knacks”, as in “a little of this, a little of that.”  In many ways, this describes Jean Pierre Jeunet’s latest film pretty well, as its made up of charming little ideas, yet doesn’t add up to anything all-too substantial.

Micmacs opens with Basil’s father killed by a French-made land mine in the Middle East in 1979.  Thirty years later, Basil (Dany Boon) is caught in the crossfire of between a criminal and the authorities, and is accidentally shot in the head.  He survives, but after his recovery Basil finds he is without a job, without a home, and still has the bullet lodged in his brain.

After a few months of living on the street, Basil is adopted by a family of misfits who salvage junk for a living, and exist in an oddball kind of harmony.  After discovering the two arms dealers inherently responsible for his father’s death and his own bullet, Basil and his makeshift family decide to pit the rival companies against each other.

A major element, perhaps the element of Micmacs is its dedication to Rube Goldberg-like machines, and it’s reliance on your everyday junk drawer treasures.  Like the wire hanger creations of the family’s resident handyman-artiste Tiny Pete (Michel Cremades), Micmacs is the assembly of many a great things long-since forgotten by the public.

This clockwork aesthetic is tailor-made for a director like Jeunet, whose attention to visual detail has enabled him to create masterpieces like City of Lost Children and Amelie.  Similar to the occupation of his characters, Jeunet too relies on the knick-knacks of cinematic history to supplement his vision.

Like many actors who have worked with Jeunet in the past, the stars of Micmacs each have a very unusual look about them, as if they were made in a factory somewhere in France with the sole purpose of starring in a Jeunet film.  The actorsin Micmacs are armed with very distinct facial features that enable them to speak more with their faces than with words.  As a result, the film sometimes plays out more like a silent film as all character development and interaction relies on over-exaggerated expressions and movements, which, frankly, wears a little thin from time to time.

Reverance to silent films aside, the film is still recognizably “Jeunet”, particularly in his trademark use of color and mise en scene.  Whereas his previous films have been more serious in tone, Micmacs is his most light, whimsical film to date.  In many ways, Micmacs looks like a product of fun.  And yet, therein lies Micmac’s greatest flaw: playtime hardly makes for great work.  Sure, the film looks fanciful and fantastic, but there is a prominent “who cares?” sentiment that lies beneath the surface of the filmgoer’s mind while watching the film.

The film has been referred to as a satire on the arms race, yet this mild political statement only appears as a mere undertone at the beginning and end of the film.  Of course, no one should blame Jeunet for not making a political movie, but the film’s opening scenes rely greatly on the widespread repercussions of violence, war and death.  Unfortunately, this sentiment disappears amidst the aesthetic clutter of Jeunet’s great, but possibly over-excited imagination.

Despite the cast of unusual characters, none of them succeed in really coming alive on screen.  When Basil’s new family is introduced, they each bear a unique, singular quirk, from super-matriarch Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau) to superfluous proverb spouting Remington (Omar Sy).  Unfortunately, these same quirks are revealed to be the only thing going for these characters, diminishing them to entertaining, but flat caricatures.  Only Jeunet-regular Dominique Pinon succeeds (somewhat) in bringing a little something extra to his character as the family’s resident human cannonball.

Micmacs plays out like the Rube Goldberg machines it features so often; lots of little things here and there are used to create darling shows that are as delightful as they are forgettable.  The film is by no means bad, but a masterpiece it is not.  At it’s best, Micmacs is undeniably charming, and at its worst, unremarkably so.  Nonetheless, it is still fun to watch.

Leave a Reply