Whether you love him or hate him, it would be impossible to argue against the fact that French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of the acclaimed Amelie ) possesses the incredible ability to take the surreal and create something almost plausible. With the release of his latest film Micmacs, Jeunet continues his whimsical exploration of modern French culture.
Micmacs is another clear example of Jeunet’s passion for constructing modern fairytales. It’s essentially your classic structure: boy gets shot, boy takes up residence in scrap yard, boy takes on arms dealers, boy falls in love with contortionist – yet somehow this is different. French comedian Dany Boon is excellently cast as protagonist Bazil, whom we first meet as a young boy shortly after his father’s demise (in typical fairytale fashion – death by landmine).
Fast-forward a couple of decades and we witness Bazil himself fall foul of an implement of war, as he receives a bullet to the head during a freak accident. Bazil returns from hospital to find his possessions gone, minus a hat that he manages to steal back from a young boy (social services just out of shot). Cut to scenes of begging and hardship until a chance meeting introduces Bazil to a family of misfits residing in a scrap yard (masquerading as a laboratory). Their goal: to create fantastical gadgets from the refuse. Still with me?
Whilst this all, admittedly, seems far-fetched on paper, on screen Micmacs is a myriad wonder to behold. The whole picture can be likened to a Rude Goldberg machine, a continuous chain reaction of small events leading to a larger outcome. Aided by his following band of ragamuffins, Bazil takes on the arms dealers responsible for both the bullet in his head and his father’s death with ingenuity and quirkiness. You’d expect nothing less from the director of the wonderfully bizarre Delicatessen (1991).
Boon is magnificent throughout. Echoing the greats of silent comedy, he gives a performance almost worthy of Marcel Marceau himself. The real stars of Micmacs, however, are the subtleties that run beneath it – satire and fragility. Not once is reference made directly to any specific real-world conflicts or the profits made by those exploiting man’s lust for destruction, yet the film’s anti-war stance is overtly obvious (and, perhaps at times, exceeds satire). However, where there is excess there is also restraint. Beneath their eccentric exteriors, the inner-workings of each of the leading characters are masterfully explored, with Julie Ferrier’s deft turn as La Môme Caoutchouc bringing both depth and heartbreak to what could have become an overly kooky, one-dimensional character. Touches like this are what makes this film not only hugely entertaining but surprisingly accessible.
It would be easy to dismiss Micmacs purely on its inability to compare to the director’s magnum opus Amelie; or on how Jeunet can at times descend into self-indulgent over-reliance on the unconventional. Yet there is something more at work here, a deeper morality just beneath the surface. Jeunet is transfixed with the concept of fate, and it seems somehow fitting that the winner here is the internet; the film portrays how even the littlest, forgotten members of the human race can make the biggest of differences, with the mere click of a mouse.