One wouldn’t normally imagine the rich inner worlds created by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, The City of Lost Children) as a platform to scathe weapons manufactures. Though, Jeunet’s latest 2009/2010 comedy, Micmacs achieves this satirical feat in the director’s true fashion of charming inventiveness.
Micmacs follows the story of Bazil (Dany Boon), whose life is persistently afflicted by weapons bearing a reoccurring symbol. Bazil is orphaned by a landmine that killed his father and later his brain is impregnated by a stray bullet. The bullet triggers a fond memory of Bazil’s father, memories he left behind by escaping the orphanage. The orphanage in a sense encaged Bazil in reminders of loss and running away leads him to the escapism of working in a little video shop. Left alone to his world of cinema, the stray bullet abruptly sends Bazil into a fated mission of vengeance.
The reoccurring symbol doesn’t take Bazil for a mystical turn of events, as much as its looming presence rings of destiny. We learn, as Bazil does, it is simply the logo of a French weapons manufacturer, a very possible employer of a French orphan’s dead father. The bullet sends Bazil’s seemingly stable life astray, awakening the suppressed landmine of memories and thirst for answers, perhaps justice, in his father’s death.
You may be asking; just what is so comedic about all of this? Well, what’s so hilarious about nuclear Armageddon during the cold war? It’s the comedic genius of Peter Sellers under the masterful direction of Stanley Kubrick in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. The brilliance of satire, while it’s a creative challenge very few can mount, is rattling an epic fist of disapproval at society while allowing the tongue to playfully blow a tuneful raspberry.
Micmacs is quite possibly the Dr. Strangelove of today, with the comparable, yet not equally, comedic savvy of French actor Dany Boon to Peter Sellers. Perhaps more so, the comparison is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s brilliant film making to Stanley Kubrick, both directors that appease no one in being truly original voices. Jeunet updates the Dr. Strangelove mission in Micmacs, where we once pointed blame at the bumbling antics of the military-industrial complex; he focuses the lens on the corporate greed of the weapons trade.
It may sound like a high concept film, but Jeunet doesn’t abandon his strengths in creating character driven films. He doesn’t entrust the entire strength of Micmacs on Boon alone, and his talents as a writer/director let the cast shine together, not just to support the protagonist. Jeunet is a filmmaker that shatters the flood lights meant to hoist a main character, allowing the broken pieces to reflect a brilliant sky of stars above.
Micmacs gathers Jeunet’s usual ensemble, including Dominique Pinon (who has been in all Jeunet’s films), the illustrious Andre Dussollier and Yolande Moreau. The newly mined gem that shines brilliantly in Micmacs is the wonderful french actress/comedian Julie Ferrier, who made her breakthrough in a one-woman show. While not having the most acclaimed film career, Jeunet’s casting of her as La Môme Caoutchouc, the contortionist love interest of Bazil, will surely propel her career. Ferrier was a former dancer, but she is not limber enough for the spectacle we see of her in Micmacs, and Jeunet actually hired a more flexible stand-in; a Russian erotic dancer.1
This rich ensemble of actors are the stars that allow Jeunet’s universe to shine. The look of Micmacs is distinctly Jeunet though, something he also shares with Kubrick. A director that maintains a distinct ambiance, texture and tone, even when not working with the same production crew, as far as editor, cinematographer and production designer. As in the director’s tour de force, Amelie, there is also the film’s musical juice fueling the ever-constant momentum his films have. Especially the source music he weaves into Micmacs’ consciousness, just as it invades the protagonist’s consciousness. Bazil is watching the classic 1946 film noir, The Big Sleep, and composer Max Steiner’s soundtrack from the film appears in Micmacs as a haunting character all its own.
Micmacs has a lot going for it, from being a rarely successful satire, an ensemble cast that feels like a good laugh with old friends, and visually stunning ingenuity. It is nothing short of the whirling carnival of cinema we’ve come to expect from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films. A carnival that in its strange characters, heavy philosophical ideas, and eerie stage, somehow converges into the emotional highs so often lacking in films today.
Perhaps it is still just a charming film about shenanigans more than the heavy political satire it’s presented as here. Like the translation of the French Micmac, meaning to carry-on, or the machination of intrigue, it is mostly a story about the cleverness of its characters more then their ultimate goal. Perhaps its greatest lesson in the corrupt weapons trade is just that; its opposition needs to focus more on the creative solutions than the ultimate goal.
1) Quint Interview with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on Ain’t It Cool News. www.aintitcool.com