After a landmine kills his father and a stray bullet lodges in his brain, leaving him constantly on the verge of sudden death, homeless Bazil (Dany Boon) seeks revenge upon the arms companies behind his misfortunes. Aided by his adopted family, a group of gifted misfits (a crook, a contortionist, a calculator, a cannonball…) based in a Paris scrapheap, he uses their combined skills and some ingenious devices built from salvaged junk to bring two death-mongering bosses to book.
Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs is a death-by-chocolate layer cake of a film, stuffed with visual invention, intricate set pieces and elaborate machinery. The cast is his usual repertory company of grotesques, clowns and character actors – hello again Dominique Pinon and Yolande Moreau, welcome Julie Ferrier as Elastic Girl, and Jesus, is Marie-Julie Baup playing a clone of Audrey Tatou? The palette is the customary rich mix of greens, yellows and browns, the commitment to delivering what underground cartoonists used to call ‘eyeball kicks’ is present and correct. Jeunet lives to please; physical comedy mixes with wordplay, tricksy camerawork and exquisitely kooky production design; even animation is thrown into the mix. He can’t bear to bore you for a minute, adding more cream, more cherries, more icing…
It’s all just too much. The whimsical, cutesy side to Jeunet and Caro’s first two films, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, was balanced out with weirder, nightmarish elements. Micmacs, however, is Jeunet’s whimsy unrestrained; this is hardcore twee, uncut cute. Every character on screen is quirky and eccentric to various degrees of irritation, and the constant visual whizbang stuff never lets the actors interact without some distracting bit of business going on. More damaging, for a film with the arms industry at its heart, is the lack of danger or darkness: while A Very Long Engagement had the horrors of the First World War to tether its more fanciful excesses to earth, here, any distressing elements are wilfully downplayed, so the arms-manufacturing bad guys are obnoxious and immoral, but never threatening or properly evil. The death of Bazil’s father and the institutionalisation of his mother at the start of the film convey no great sense of real trauma or loss. His shooting and subsequent loss of job and home are played for Chaplinesque laughs. Even the bullet lodged in his brain doesn’t seem to affect him that much. The upshot of all this calculated defanging is that any sense of adventure or tension is derailed; the good guys’ victory is achieved at little risk, and the odds against them don’t seem that high. When photographs of landmine victims are used in one scene, or some nasty gun-toting dictators’ henchmen turn ugly, they seem utterly out of place in this candy-coloured dreamland. Jeunet doesn’t seem that interested in the politics or economics of the arms business; it would muddy the waters of his fable, complicate things. He’s sure you’d prefer a big slice of winsome, another helping of good-hearted. Well, it’s a fine-looking confection, but one bite could give you diabetes.