I’ll always have a soft spot for the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose Amelie, The City of Lost Children, and Delicatessen are ecletic, visually sumptuous classics. His latest, Bigbug (2022), is not among his best, but it’s impossible to dislike, a quirky and eye-popping spectacle with a playful, weird sense of humor. Taking place in a pastel future positively dystopian in the upbeat, semi-voluntary oppression of its populace, Bigbug centers on an impromptu gathering at the home of Alice (Elsa Zylberstein). The home is a digitally connected, high-tech smarthouse serviced by retro, AI-driven robots, including maidservant android Monique (Claude Perron). When a glitch upsets the programming of the AIs increasingly challenging humanity for dominance, the system goes haywire and the house goes into lockdown. This traps Alice and her companions – including daughter Nina (Marysol Fertard), ex-husband Victor (Youssef Hajdi), suitor Max (Stéphane De Groodt), suitor’s son Léo (Hélie Thonnat), ex’s girlfriend Jennifer (Claire Chust), and neighbor Françoise (Isabelle Nanty) – in the house “for their own protection.” The crisis goes on for weeks, leading to extended stir-crazy shenanigans, including numerous romantic hook-ups and interpersonal conflicts.
Bigbug is a shiny, chaotic mess, with a structurally slapdash end game. But it’s funny, light-hearted, and appealingly unpredictable; besides, when it comes to Jeunet I would probably be disappointed if it weren’t all over the place. To be sure, with its isolated ensemble and limited-set scenario, the film is also very obviously a bottle show that screams “pandemic production,” but fortunately that’s part of its ingenious point. Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant have crafted a clever metafictional take on the stresses and madness of involuntary “house arrest,” substituting a worldwide AI/computer virus for a respiratory one – bigbug, get it? This makes it feel like an elaborate creative coping mechanism for the pandemic, but it’s also one of those science fiction pieces thinly veiling commentary about the present, which makes it a humorous, timely reflection on our recent collective trauma. In this regard, it’s not nearly as slick as Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi; the flamboyant world-building is wackadoodle, the humor uneven, and it surely would have benefited from a judicious edit. But it’s also a striking, layered diversion I suspect will hold up as a unique psychological reflection of its era.