French Follies

From France, Micmacs is another overdose of Gallic whimsy from oddball director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, Delicatessen) about misfortune, vengeance and love. Most of all, it is, of all things, a comedy about international arms dealers that borrows heavily from the madcap style of silent-film-era icons like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. I can’t say I found it as mesmerizing as other critics did when it was unveiled last year in Toronto, but I admit it is hugely original.

In 1979, on a sand dune in the Sahara Desert, a soldier is blown up by a land mine. His orphaned son Bazil (played by popular French clown Dany Boon) grows up to work in a video store, where he is gunned down in a freaky drive-by shooting. The surgeon flips a coin and decides to leave the bullet in his head. When Bazil is released from the hospital, he finds himself homeless and unemployed. On the streets, he is taken in by a band of bizarre but friendly scavengers with names like Calculator, Slammer, Elastic Girl, Tiny Pete and Mama Chow; they live in a junk yard eking out a marginal living collecting scrap. One day, while out foraging for discarded junk to turn into charming tools and sculptures to beautify the dump, Bazil finds himself on the street that houses the manufacturers who built the bomb that killed his father and the bullet that is lodged in his brain forever. Bazil recruits his new “family” to set about plotting a lunatic revenge that embraces themes of misfortune, vengeance and love.

As the sheer volume of tertiary characters increases, the movie gets confusing and just a wee bit boring. But that is an important part of Jeunet’s quixotic style, and eventually you get used to the Rube Goldberg inventions, the lady contortionist and the human cannon as though they were all as normal as the 6 o’clock news. It’s fun picking out the sources for the elastic expressions, many from such inspirations as Marcel Marceau and Jacques Tati. The contrasts between the evil arms dealers who make weapons and the ragtag misfits who make objects to charm and amuse are ingenious, and of course, like all Jeunet movies, there’s a love story. Micmacs may not be everyone’s cup of capricious comedy, but it delivers an audio-visual picnic of surprises that makes craziness contagious.

rreed@observer.com

 

Micmacs
Running time 105 minutes
Written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring Dany Boon,
André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié, Jean-Pierre Marielle

3 Eyeballs out of 4

  French Follies