Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s distinctive filmmaking style is one of history, hyper-detail and whimsy. These are not bad things, especially when the stories they tell maintain an emotional grip on the viewer throughout, as in Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, or when they are murkily, morbidly fanciful, as in Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children and his new film, Micmacs à Tire-Larigot (in America, it is being simplified as Micmacs).
Micmacs is similar to Jeunet’s past work in that he takes a passel of uniquely talented but delicate characters and puts them on the path to Something Big; their world is one of cluttered treasures and Rube Goldbergian mechanisms; frequent sepia-filtered colors are warm and vivid, while there is beauty to be found in practically everything, from smoky nighttime rooftops to the coiled clutter of industrial waste. There is the standard Jeunet childhood-background opening scene (this time sans narration), and a flash forward to our hero as an adult: Chaplinesque Bazil (Dany Boon), whose father was killed by a landmine, sits in the video store where he works, mouthing the dialogue to Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep.
But when a passing gun battle gets out of hand, Bazil takes a stray bullet to the brain, and his surgeon flips a coin whether to remove it and risk making him a vegetable, or leave it in and risk death. This choice leaves Bazil scarred, homeless, with little more than his clothes and trusty cap. As he panhandles his way around the city, he is taken in by a makeshift family of lovable misfits, all of whom have unique abilities and nicknames like Buster, Slammer, Tiny Pete and Elastic Girl. Together they live in a ramshackle home beneath a junkyard. It is only after becoming part of the group that Bazil has a realization: he must bring down the pair of arms dealers (Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie) whose respective companies manufactured the landmine that killed his father and the bullet lodged in his head. With his friends’ assistance, they group manages to outwit security thugs and third-world despots with ingenuity and lots of salvaged machinery.
With flourishes from his favorite classic films wandering in and out of scenes (including the intermittent use of some beautiful archival scores from Max Steiner) and fanciful moments (a billboard for Micmacs appears twice, and a full orchestra appears and disappears during a critical moment), the film is mostly feather-light and sweetly comedic. There are, however, some dark edges to the whole affair. The fates of Bazil’s parents and the tone they set for the remainder of his (briefly referenced) childhood are grim, but not as much as the film’s suggested retribution on the two CEOs.
More importantly, Micmacs answers the burning question: can a man with a bullet stuck in his brain find true love with a contortionist? Jeunet has once again created a world of charming characters who share a common bond, act on a common goal, and utilize very uncommon methods, resulting in a delightful film.