Taking on the arms trade with customary quirk, Jeunet’s Micmacs launches another political bombshell. But can all this salvage ever hope to hit the bull’s eye?
Clockwork Agent Orange by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
Freed from the primary-colour tyranny and treacle-sweet whimsy of Amélie, Micmacs à tire-larigot is a fabulous destiny in a minor key. With its extravagantly eccentric strategems and underplayed love story, Micmacs offers a red-blooded alternative of the colourful dreamer taking on the grey world. Only this time it’s political.
After years developing an adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi, Jean-Pierre Jeunet finally shelved the project in favour of the gleefully freewheeling and cosily familiar Micmacs à tire-larigot. It’s a phantasmagoria of all things Jeunet; a frolicsome family of freaks cobbling together automata out of scrap, enacting elaborate revenge schemes and ensuring the star-gazer gets the contortionist girl.
Bazil is the charmingly naive dreamer in question, charismatically played by Dany Boon. Having originally cast Amélie daydreamer/comedian Jamel Debbouze, Jeunet amply filled his oversized clown shoes with former mime-artist and stand-up Boon, who proves Debbouze’s equal in Beatonesque physicomedy, if not quite in doleful doe-eyes. From his father being blown up by a desert landmine to Bazil snagging an undislodgable stray bullet, Jeunet paints Bazil’s life story with elegant economy. Twice the victim of two Parisian munitions factories, Bazil sets his sights on a revenge served deliciously twisted.
But violence is not the Jeunetian hero’s way. Mischievous mayhem more his modus operandi. With his (all-too-willing perhaps) band of muddling mutineers, they flood drug-stash postboxes and dope security guards together, ready to disarm the city’s arms makers with clockwork contraptions made by Petit Pierre. Like the extravagant chain reaction in The City of Lost Children where a girl’s tear landing in a spider’s web results in a ship crashing into harbour, the pneumatic robots and serpentine schemes make for a satisfying spectacle all by themselves.
Inspired by the munitions factory workers’ cafés in Saint Cloud where Jeunet would lunch while editing The City of Lost Children, Micmacs is a distillation of the hydraulic wonders of industrial Paris, such as the Canal St Martin or the ports along the Seine, combined with a French folklore of checkered napkins, three-wheeling Citroëns and zinc brasseries. So far, so Jeunet. But in Micmacs the director delights in new post-modern flourishes, crashing through posters advertising the film itself or an onscreen orchestra underscoring the drama. It is this sense of anarchy and sheer pleasure of invention that makes Micmacs so enjoyable, unfettered by love stories or diegetic (death) drive.
With the subterranean scrapheap ‘The Tire-Larigot’ as their big top, the Micmacs are a circus family, their name borrowed from a Native American tribe meaning kin. A curious family of showmen comprised of old stalwarts like contortionist La Môme Caoutchouc and human cannonball Fracasse as well as disaffected loners like human calculator Calculette or ethnographer/typewriter Remington. Together, all these man-machines find refuge in the industrial cabinet of wonders Jeunet so lovingly creates, with Bazil at its centre.
Just as Bazil has Remington as his leading light and porte-parole, Bazil is a fictional stand-in for Jeunet, a film-soaked impresario staging complex theatricals or sound-mixing chimney pots, looking for the right story. And if taciturn Bazil wins the hearts of his fellow Micmacs, it’s out of respect for the sheer effort he goes to to pull off his crazy capers. Jeunet on the other hand starts to lose us when he opens his mouth. Maybe we can forgive the unnecessary whimsy (bells chiming as the star-gazing lovers’ paths collide) or the weak, hare-brained revenge McGuffin (Does Bazil even defuse the ticking time bomb in his head?) But as a political satire, Micmacs is naive and clumsy. In this Jeunetopia, the social-networking community of the internet can bring down corporations and arms dealers can be snared by their love of celebrity curios.
Unlike Delicatessen or The City Of Lost Children where the villains belong to the same fictional cosmos, the political blackguards of Micmacs are unconvincing in the here and now, despite the best efforts of André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié and a welcome sideswipe at Sarkozy, whose picture furnishes the desks of both ballistics bosses. The landmine-induced confessions of Marconi and Fenouillet are well meaning, but trite and awkward, begging the question whether earth-bound politics can ever be contorted into the Jeunet universe.
The real political message of Micmacs is community. Whether it is the click-clack argot that brings the marginalised Micmacs together, or the unified purpose and indomitable spirit with which they embark upon their capers, the film is an ensemble piece with Bazil its lovable ringmaster. Like this circus’s scrap automata, Jeunet’s Micmacs à tire-larigot is a mishmash recycled from previous works. It’s not perfect, after all “c’est de la récup!” But it’s salvage at its most enchanting.