It has been five long years since Jean-Pierre Jeunet's last film, A Very Long Engagement, but the wait has been worth it, as he returns with Micmacs. The story of a man who seeks revenge against the munitions makers who have ruined his life may begin from a more serious premise, but it is as whimsical as the filmmaker's wonderful Amelie. Star Dany Boon has charm to spare, but without Amelie's rom-com hook or Audrey Tautou's gamine charm, Micmacs is unlikely to repeat that film's worldwide mega-success. Still, with Jeunet's fan base lining up at theaters and good word of mouth, it should score solid numbers in its stateside release.
A landmine robs Bazil (Boon) of his father when he is just a little boy. Years later, a stray bullet catches him square in the forehead, lodging there precariously where it might kill him at any moment. The wound also costs him his home and his job as a video store clerk. His future looks bleak until a quirky band of second-hand dealers take him into their glittering wonderland of junk. Among this eccentric group are Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), an ex-con with a talent for picking locks; Buster (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), who insists he holds the human cannonball record, even if he doesn't have proof; Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès), an artist who fashions wonderfully idiosyncratic, moving sculpture out of the detritus they all collect; and Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), a contortionist. This world of outsiders offers Bazil friendship and family, and something more. When he resolves to get even with the weapons companies that have cast their shadow on his life his new pals join forces with him, using their talents for elaborate invention and intricate plots to help him achieve his goal.
In a way, Micmacs is a love letter to the movies Jeunet and his co-writer Guillaume Laurent hold dear. Boon is a gifted physical performer and in Bazil there are shades of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, his link to the latter underlined in a scene that pays tribute to the silent comedian. Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep is what Bazil is watching just before the shooting, a film he knows so well that he speaks the lines right along with Humphrey Bogart's cynically romantic private eye, Philip Marlowe. That film resonates throughout Micmacs in different ways, as Jeunet weaves Max Stein's gorgeous score into the fabric of his own story and as Bazil turns into a kind of detective as he hunts his dangerous quarry. His junk-dealing friends recall both Snow White's little buddies, The Seven Dwarfs, as well as human equivalents of Pixar's Toy Story characters.
The whimsy does not stop with homage—it’s in the many wacky traits that embellish all of the characters, even the villains; in Bazil's daffy, extravagant plan for revenge; and in Aline Bonetto's production design, particularly in the metallic hovel that is the junk dealers' headquarters. Like Amelie, Micmacs is visually dazzling, the ravishing images coming courtesy of La Vie en Rose cinematographer, Tetsuo Nagata. But strip away all the oddball touches and visual splendor and what is left may be Jeunet's most compelling movie yet, witty, poignant, and altogether magical.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Omar Sy, Dominque Pinon, Julie Ferrier, Nicolas Marié, Marie-Julie Baup, Michel Crémadès, Yolande Moreau and Jean-Pierre Marielle
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant
Producer: Frédéric Brillion, Gilles Legrand and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Genre: Comedy Drama
Rating: R for some sexuality and brief violence.
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: May 28 NY/LA