In the world of cinema no filmmaker’s work is as instantly recognizable than that of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. His first feature, Delicatessen, which he co-directed with illustrator Marc Caro almost twenty years ago, is still a visual masterpiece that took pieces of Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and a sense of twisted fairy tale whimsy and wrapped them up into something entirely unique. His latest work is , Micmacs à Tire-Larigot, (just Micmacs over here) a piece of poetry masquerading as cinema, accomplishes the same heights, but he peppers a little politics into each stanza.
The film follows Bazil, a Chaplin-esque tramp who was orphaned when his father was killed in Morocco by a landmine manufactured by a French arms company. Bazil grows up to be a lonely night clerk at a video store who spends his time watching and reciting the lines of The Big Sleep. One night, outside the store, Bazil witnesses a dramatic chase sequence that seems to have come to life from the movies he loves. As the first bullet breaks the window and embed itself in a DVD strangely entitled Micmacs à Tire-Larigot (look for other instances of this throughout the picture). The next stray bullet finds its way into Bazil’s “brainbox,” as one character refers to his head.
Upon getting out the hospital, bullet still lodged in his head, Bazil finds himself homeless, jobless, and penniless. He finds change as a street performer doing everything from dancing like a robot in front of a café to clandestinely lip-syncing to another street performer’s songs. All of these magnificent scenes are portrayed with such humility and pathos by French star of the screen and stage, Dany Boon. Boon brings so much humanity to Bazil that every scene has the chance to break your heart, and fill it with joy all at once.
The role of Bazil, originally written for French-Algerian entertainer Jamal Debouzze, was redrafted for Boon after the former bowed out of the film. Initially hesitant to take on a role conceived for someone else we, as an audience, are lucky he came around. His gentle face and amazing comic body language elevate the picture much in the same way that Audrey Tautou did for Jeunet’s Amélie.
As luck would have it Bazil is adopted by a group of society’s outcasts who live in a cavernous domicile at the dump built into the side of a scrap pile. This eclectic band of misfits fix things that others throw away, essentially eco-minded recycling junkies. As Bazil is folded into the mix he finds that the two companies responsible the landmine that killed his father, and the bullet still in his grey matter are housed right across the street from each other.
Laying blame for the events that shaped his life, not with the perpetrators of the violence, but with the makers of the tools of violence, Bazil vows to bring down these giants of the war industry, and each of his newfound family play a part. Slammer (Jean-Pierre Merielle), Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau),Buster (Dominque Pinon), Remmington (Omar Sy), Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), Tiny Pete (Michel Crémades), and Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier) each have their talents, but the most impressive are Buster, who once broke the world record for the longest human cannonball shot, and Elastic Girl, the resident contortionist. Like a modern Sergio Leone film, Bazil and this bizarre corruption of the seven dwarfs contrive plans to set the two owners of the arms companies, played by André Dusollier and Nicolas Marié, against each other.
The plans become increasingly elaborate, and as such, more and more fun to watch. Most include Elastic Girl folded up inside a cardboard box, putting her in ever increasing danger making Bazil worry about her, and revealing his feelings for the pretzely heroine.
Each frame is filled with a warm love that comes from DP Tetsua Negata’s lush photography, and from Aline Bonetto’s detailed production design. The junk yard cavern is brilliantly constructed, if not somewhat reminiscent of Emir Kusturica’s Underground, but the truly magical set pieces are those featuring the mechanical sculptures made by Tiny Pete, creations of real-life Parisian artist Gilbert Peyre. Their scrap metal circus quality folds into the Jeunet aesthetic better than any other piece of the film.
But in the end it is all about the wonderful, strange characters that screenwriters Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant have created; a world similar to ours, just a lot more special. Their obvious political agenda is to rail against an industry the seeks to profit from mankind’s destructive nature, thus making the film a commentary on war profiteering, and capitalism in general, but it all takes a back seat the to comic fun Jeunet puts onscreen. Each scheme the group engages in is designed to put a smile on your face, or elicit a tear from your eye. Toward the heavy handed end they attempt to shove the moral of the story down the audience’s throat making the finale slightly less satisfying than it could have been; a minor criticism in an otherwise spectacularly choreographed circus of wonder.
El Luchador Rating: 5 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)