If nothing else, the summer of 2010 brings us Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs—or to give it its full French title Micmacs à tire-larigot, which, according to my French-speaking editor (she speaks English, too, which is a good thing), translates as “Nonstop mix-ups” or “Nonstop funny business,” either of which could describe this magnificently playful, endlessly creative movie. Micmacs is far and away the best thing I’ve seen all summer. While I hate the fact that Jeunet has been absent from the film scene since A Very Long Engagement back in 2004, I’m willing to forgive his absence since he has come back with something this, well, wonderful. I haven’t had this much pure joy and entertainment at a movie all year.
In some ways, Micmacs is more closely related to the earlier Jeunet-Caro films like Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995) than it is to Amélie (2001) or A Very Long Engagement, but don’t take that too literally. It has the drive and some of the surrealism of those earlier films, but it has a sweetness of spirit that’s more in keeping with his later films. In fact, it may be a perfect blend of his oeuvre. Some viewers will find it too much, I suspect, or they will think it’s style over substance, or they will find it too much effort for what will be perceived by some as a slight story. To them I say, “Banana oil.” This is a firkin—maybe two firkins—full of simians of a movie made by a filmmaker in love with the joy of filmmaking and the quirkiness of his characters.
Dany Boon (My Best Friend) stars as Bazil, a fellow who seems to have no luck at all. His father was killed by a landmine in the Western Sahara in 1979, leaving Bazil an orphan. Thirty years later, Bazil has a job in a video store where he spends his time watching old American movies like The Big Sleep (1946) in their French-language versions—until he’s shot in the head in a freak accident during an actual shootout in the street outside the store. The doctor—on the basis of a coin toss—decides not to operate, since it might leave Bazil a vegetable. The downside, however, is that the bullet could kill him at any moment.
Things go from bad to worse. Upon getting out of the hospital, Bazil finds that most of his belongings have been stolen and he is without a place to live. Plus, his job has been given to a pretty girl (Manon Le Moal), who does give him a small gift found in the tire of her boyfriend’s motorbike: the shell from the bullet in Bazil’s head. Out of work and out of luck, Bazil tries his best to get by until one day an old man called Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle, The Da Vinci Code) in the U.S. version (and Placard in the French one) takes him to a “family” who adopts him. The family lives in a fantasticated structure built from scrap in a junkyard and is comprised of a collection of misfits and outcasts lorded over by Tambouille/Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau, Séraphine). Each has a special talent or obsession that will come into play in the course of the story.
The main part of the film kicks in when Bazil finds himself on a street with armament manufacturers, the buildings facing each other—one of them he recognizes as the company that made the mine that killed his father, the other as the makers of the bullet that may cause his brain to “pop” at any moment. When he quickly learns that both are run by unscrupulous war profiteers (well, they are munitions manufacturers), he decides to seek his revenge. This becomes an intricate, convoluted scheme to turn the two against each other. It’s sufficiently loopy that Bazil’s newfound family is more than delighted to take a hand in it.
Since much of the joy of the film comes from watching the plan unfold in ways that often defy expectations, I am going to say nothing about how it all works. I will say that the characters are wonderful; the situations are clever; the performances (including Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) are first rate; the musical score (a mix of new music by Raphael Beau and old Warner Bros. scores by Max Steiner) is a constant delight; and Jeunet is at the top of his game as a filmmaker. And if you want something more—though you really oughn’t—the film itself, like Bazil, has something on its mind thematically. Do yourself the favor of seeing Micmacs—and see it on the big screen where its visual splendor can be appreciated. Rated R for some sexuality and brief violence.