Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dany Boon, Julie Ferrier, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Dominique Pinon, Omar Sy, Marie-Julie Baup, Michel Cremades, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Pierre Marielle
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and brief violence
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 09/15/2009

Micmacs (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's easy to see how Jean-Pierre Jeunet arrived at Micmacs as his sixth feature film. It follows the same course most so-called "lightweight" entertainers go through: a need for respect. In 2001, the filmmaker found success and acclaim with his lovely Amélie, though many expressed disdain for the film's artificial, scrubbed cartoon look. (It was the predictable backlash against so beloved a film.) So for his next outing, he did what anyone yearning for respect would do: he made a 2-1/2 hour war film, and cast the star of Amélie, Audrey Tautou, for good measure. Predictably, A Very Long Engagement (2004) made less money and charmed the critics a good deal less. Now, after a six-year pause, Jeunet returns with Micmacs, a film that skillfully balances both his natural, storytelling charm with his need to "say a little something."

Micmacs -- the title means something near to "shenanigans" -- is a delightful dark comedy with much of the cartoonish logic of Amélie, but also a parable about the evils of arms dealers. It moves in a closed circuit of colorful characters and in a tighter span of time than A Very Long Engagement, and it comes out as far more satisfying. Danny Boon stars as Bazil, a man whose father was killed after stepping on a landmine, and who himself gets shot in the head years later while criminals are escaping the scene of a crime. He survives, but loses his job and his apartment.

After some time on the street, he winds up living with an underground "family" of misfits, collecting, fixing and selling junk. There's the shaggy, older Placard (Jean-Pierre Marielle); the adorable, nerd-girl Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), who can calculate any measurement at a glance; Remington (Omar Sy) speaks mainly in idioms and well-known phrases; Buster (Dominique Pinon, a regular in Jeunet's films) is a former human cannonball record-holder; Tiny Pete makes beautifully delicate objets d'art out of junk and has the strength of ten men; and Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau) feeds everyone. Then there's the cute, oddball contortionist Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), who takes a liking to Bazil.

Bazil discovers the headquarters of the manufacturers of both the killer landmine and his bullet (still lodged in his head). He targets Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (Andre Dussollier), who looks a little bit like James Caan crossed with a toad, and collects body parts of famous people, and Francois Marconi (Nicolas Marie), who knows how all the famous poets died, and begins a Yojimbo-like strategy to play one against the other and bring them both down.

Taken separately, each of the characters can seem thin. Each one is defined by a single trait, and that single trait always seems to come in handy at just the perfect time. But taken all together, they form a wonderful whole, each finding his or her place as cogs in Jeunet's wondrous, playful machine. Jeunet's imaginative logic unfolds like a "Mousetrap" game; it's probably needlessly complicated, but the sheer roundabout path is far more interesting than the actual destination. What's more, with every step carefully planned and executed, Micmacs could have turned out airless and too tightly wound. But Juenuet's effortless storytelling keeps a constant joyous mood throughout, and occasionally pauses to appreciate beautiful or absurd moments. It's not in any hurry, and nothing seems locked in. More than any other filmmaker alive, he seems to have learned a thing or two from the visuals and timing of the master cartoon-maker Chuck Jones. He knows that a quiet shot of some beautiful rock formations is just as important as the shot of the anvil landing on the Coyote's head.

Indeed, if Jeunet wants to make more movies like this one about the evils of arms dealers or has anything else to say about the state of the world, I'll be all too glad to listen. I was lucky enough to see Micmacs twice, once at a press screening, and again at the opening night of the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival. It's a film so rich in tiny treasures that it holds up and gets even better.

Best Buy Co, Inc.