SXSW Review: Micmacs

By  · Published on March 17th, 2010

I’ve enjoyed every single one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French films. From the dark fairytale of City of Lost Children to the enchanting Cinderella story of Amelie to the sprawling, visionary war epic (and my favorite film of his) that is A Very Long Engagement, each and every one of his films have offered something new, surprising, and wholly original. The auteur now transitions his impeccably creative lens to a whimsical, charming story about a group of misfits enacting one of cinema’s most playfully executed acts of revenge. The whole experience is fun and enchanting, and Jeunet’s incomparable eye for illustrious visuals and his equally unique storytelling skills make for an experience that will put a permanent grin on your face.

Micmacs concerns a social misfit named Bazil (Daniel Boon), a man who has been dealt an unfortunate proportion of bad cards in his life. After enduring the death of his parents in his early childhood and the difficulties of having a bullet lodged in his head as an adult (this is a comedy, I swear), Bazil encounters a team of fellow eccentrics and outcasts with rather unique talents, including an Olive Oyl-channeling contortionist, a genius of memory, and a struggling stuntman played by Jeunet mainstay Dominique Pinon. All are joyous and unique characters who, like Bazil, are suggested to have a dark history behind their idiosyncratic talents. Tragedy, of course, is typically cited as a necessary source of humor, but Jeunet thankfully doesn’t dwell on these details as a brooding undercurrent to an otherwise fanciful tale. Instead, the two are conflated as one, as moments like Bazil being shot in the face in the film’s opening minutes and his struggle find a place to sleep outside with a cardboard blanket later in the film have light comic touches that ring as neither insincere nor blissfully ignorant. For Jeunet and for these characters, being able to realize what is funny in the world is the only way its darkness can be endured.

This conceit comes especially into play when the team assembles an intricate revenge plot against two competing arms dealers. It is in this respect that the film finds a way to laugh at the darkest of realities as we witness the methodical Looney Tunes-style comic torture of two fictional characters responsible for arming some of the world’s greatest modern atrocities, including Darfur. The joy of watching Micmacs is in witnessing Jeunet’s boundariless imagination at work as the misfits carry out scheme after scheme with a whimsy and a visual style that allude to anything from Bugs Bunny to Buster Keaton. In fact, in many ways, watching Micmacs is like watching a great comic silent film, one that embraces the endless possibilities of visual storytelling, inundated with visual gags both great and small in nearly each moment of its running time.

Micmacs is truly cinema-specific. The experience of seeing it cannot be paralleled within any other medium, and one gets a sense throughout that Jeunet is working purely within his element here. He possesses a magnificently detailed vision, and I can’t stress enough how fun it is to watch those details at play onscreen. Micmacs gives the impression that an extended amount of time and effort was put forth to manufacture every living detail. It’s been more than half a decade since Jeunet’s last feature, but if such gaps in time guarantee a result this astounding, then the intricacy and patience with which Jeunet approaches his work is no doubt well worth it.

Because Micmacs is so uniquely cinematic, the social realities depicted within its plot come across as inconsistent, even misplaced (if a film is presented as a living cartoon, does it possess the grounding in reality necessary to be considered satire?), but the man is a visual storyteller in the way that few filmmakers are, and all the strengths in his cinematic arsenal are at work here in full force.

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