Within the first five minutes of Micmacs, one character is blown up by a landmine and another is shot in the head. You should take both events as a sign that this isn’t going to be the quaint little Jean-Pierre Jeunet film you may be expecting. For the first 20 minutes or so, Micmacs may seems like it’s going to go the route of Amélie, all cutesy and charming and oh-so-French, with maybe a crude moment or two thrown in. And sure, you get the primary-color-centric cinematography that Jean-Pierre Jeunet charmed us with in the past, and you’ll find an array of whimsical characters. But the plot is much more serious than that.
Bazil (Dany Boon) is the unlucky fellow with the head injury (and his father was the guy that exploded). He survives somehow, the bullet intact near his brain, threatening to take his life at any moment. When he leaves the hospital, he finds himself homeless and jobless, forced to street perform during the day and to use a cardboard box to blanket himself at night.
However, this being a Jeunet film and all, his luck soon changes when he joins a “family” of lovable misfits that cohabitate in a mound of trash. And, of course, each of them has a quirky talent, from contortion to holding a record for getting shot out of a cannon. The plot takes its turn when Bazil accidentally stumbles on the company that made the bomb that killed his father. Conventiently, right across the street is the company that made the bullet that’s currently trapped below the surface of his skin. The rest of the movie plays out as Bazil and pals screw with each of the owners, pitting the two against each other in a game of one-upmanship.
Micmacs, though lighthearted and funny, definitely treads into dark, violent territory. This shouldn’t be completely unexpected from Jeunet, whose Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and A Very Long Engagement all included morbid moments (plus he did an Aliens picture, after all). You get illegal arms dealing and former African dictators hoping to stage a coup. But what sets the newest film off from the bunch the most is its modernity. The villains wear well-tailored suits, live in plush homes, and have estranged family members. So while the good guys may seem impossibly cute, there’s a sense of realism to what’s happening that will bring you down to earth. In his own way, Jeunet kind of made a thriller.
And unlike his other films, Micmacs leaves the viewer with a political message, one that he presents humorously and doesn’t jam too far down your throat. That alone will help you forgive the cloying characters and obvious romance.
Micmacs will screen at the Sottile Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday night as part of the Charleston French Film Festival.