Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Micmacs à tire-larigot

A few years back, word was out that french director Jean-Pierre Jeunet would be directing a big screen adaptation of the acclaimed Booker prize winning novel by Yann Martel, The Life Of Pi, a decision that seemed blindingly delightful as he's definitely got the rare style, outlook and skills to pull it off. There were also some skeptics who argued as to the mostly phsychological nature of the adventure story, which would limit the multi-textured, intricate and multi-hued fimmaking style for which Jeunet is most famous for. And thus, the sun set on the vivid hopes of those who enjoyed the book, when his withdrawal from the project was announced; the official reason being given as budgetary concerns. He instead chose to stay in France and return to the sort of fantasy-tinged comedy that made his name. The film is Micmacs A Tire Larigot, a film written by Jeunet himself along with regular writing partner Guillaume Laurant, with whom he also co-wrote A Very Long Engagement and City of Lost Children.

Drawing on one of France's most popular screen stars, the incorrigible Dany Boon from the comedy megahit Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, as well as a cast of some of the country's best-known actors, Jeunet turns on the afterburners in this searing piece of romantic filmmaking set against the storm clouds of warring arms dealers. Boon plays the role of Bazil, a man who was orphaned as a youngster when his soldier father was killed by a roadside bomb. Now working in a video store and trying to find his place in the world, Bazil is hit by a stray bullet in a freak drive-by shooting incident. Emerging from hospital, he finds himself jobless and penniless, but good fortune appears in the form of an ex-con, Tire-Larigot. The ingenious salvage artist ekes out a marginal existence living in a scrap dump together with a tirelessly good-humoured and resourceful group of misfits. Charmed and overwhelmed by the hospitality he receives, Bazil turns the dump into a warm underground home full of magical tools and sculptures made from discarded junk. Meanwhile, an opportunity to get even with the arms manufacturers who killed his father and left him with a bullet in the head keeps Bazil busy plotting sweet revenge.

As usual, Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings audiences a full cast of brilliantly quirky characters. These include Tambouille (Yolande Moreau), the matron of the group, Remington (Omar Sy), who only speaks in idioms, Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup) who can calculate anything from ingredients to distances, La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier), the rubber woman who can squeeze into suitcases and cardboard boxes, Fracasse (Dominique Pinon) the somewhat twisted one, and Petit Pierre (Michel Crémadès) the tiny inventor who can lift huge weight, among others.

Through their insane adventures, which always involve some sort of crazy homemade machinery from the junkyard, the family of misfits always sticks together. Romance blossoms between Bazil and his rubber lady friend, but more than that, they have all found a place where they can be themselves. This is the overarching message of Micmacs – whatever your quirk or idiosyncrasy, you don’t have to hide it; in fact, in puts you at an advantage in the world.

Overall, Micmacs is a thoroughly enjoyable watch. You will fall in love with its characters, laugh maniacally at their intricate schemes and wacky gadgets, and also get riled up about weapons manufacturing. The film almost goes overboard on the political issues, but it stops itself at just the right moment in favour of its lighter and whimsical air. Jeunet has made all the right choices in Micmacs.

If you’re a follower of Jeunet, he’s also turned Micmacs into a “where’s Waldo?” of his older works. When I first watched Delicatessen some years back, I was in love with Jeunet's style, stories, and character crafting. In A Very Long Engagement, we saw a departure from the usual Jeunet we knew and loved but in Micmacs we have a return to the very rich character assortment and outrageous scenes we're used to seeing in movies like Delicatessen, Amelie, and City of Lost Children. I will refrain from calling the characters quirky since I think Jeunet cringes every time he hears it. I know I do. I will say that he makes ALL the characters surrounding the main character hyper developed but not in an unrealistic, annoying, or unbelievable way: Think the Scaphandrier in City of Lost Children or The Glass Man in Amelie. They're not quirky so much as they hyper- unique and have an interesting back story that lends well to the overall feel of the film .

Talking of plots, the story, packed though it is with fantastic imagery as if it were a story about bad adults written by very clever children, races along regardless. The scene where Bazil gets shot is itself so much more than a simple zap with a bullet. It's a short film in itself, and the whole thing is full of chunks like that.

There are lots of small homages to his older films, and mini-cameos from their stars. The couple from Delicatessen shows up at one point, and at another, actor Mathieu Kassovitz (who played Nine Quincampoix in Amelie) appears tucking his daughter into bed. There are countless others to watch for as well, so brush up on your Jeunet films before going to Micmacs!