Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest, Micmacs (2009), couldn’t be more my kind of movie, an amusing, clockwork combination of intricate cons, unpredictable humor, and gorgeously calculated cinematography. It falls somewhere between the broad appeal and romantic charm of Amelie and the grittier, darker sensibility of earlier Jeunet films like Delicatessan and The City of Lost Children. The result, while perhaps not as striking as those predecessors, is still a wicked fun contraption, bursting with eyeball kicks and comic energy, a one-of-a-kind absurdist con movie.
Bazil (Dany Boon) is a video store clerk who, as a child, lost his father to a landmine explosion; as an adult, he loses his job and his livelihood when stray gunfire fells him. Down on his luck, with a bullet lodged in his brain that may well kill him at any moment, he muddles through as a street performer for a while, before drawing the attention of – and ultimately being recruited into – a band of junkyard misfits who subsist on the world’s salvaged leftovers. A series of coincidences lead Bazil to learn that the bullet that struck him down and the landmine that killed his father were manufactured by rival munitions companies. He takes it upon himself to exact revenge on them, employing the weird, magical attributes of his rag-tag companions in an elaborate divide-and-conquer strategy.
Jeunet’s colorful visual story-telling, chaotic sense of humor, and penchant for whimsical, mechanistic cause and effect are all once again on display, and it makes for a breezy, fast-paced film. Bazil isn’t quite the rallying central character that Amelie is, but Boon possesses an effective hangdog charm, and he’s surrounded by interesting allies, including a human calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), an ethnographer (Omar Sy), and a contortionist (the scene-stealing Julie Ferrier). It’s sort of an anti-war themed, urban fantasy Mission: Impossible episode, employing classic cinematic con artistry, slapstick heroics and cartoon villainy. Although the pacing snags now and then, I found the style inherently funny, and thought the quieter moments provided effective contrast. Not quite a masterpiece, Micmacs is still a clever, enjoyable romp that should appeal to fans of Jeunet’s other films.