Are You Not Suffocated with Whimsy?!?

05/26/2010 3:30 AM |

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeneut

“I don’t do politics,” says one of the Machiavellian armaments businessmen in Micmacs. It’s apparent that co-writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) doesn’t “do politics” either. While Jeunet’s penchant for cartoonish visual quirks is an ostensible match for satire, his limp class commentary and short film sensibility limit any narrative energy. And, unfortunately, Micmacs feels like one short film on repeat.

After an unfortunate bullet-to-the-head situation, Bazil (Danny Boon) finds himself out of a job, homeless, and on the verge of dying at any moment (which adds a sense of mortality Jeunet never apprehends). While performing for change outside the Musée D’Orsay, Bazil is swiftly adopted by a vagabond and brought to a community of outsiders who live under a trash heap. Bazil enlists the help of these merry pranksters to gain revenge on the arms manufacturer that created the bullet wedged in his head. The mission is not to expose, but to annoy—and that appears to be Jeunet’s objective as well.

Micmacs is inventive only on a shallow level, the way a trinket is creative. The visuals and small creations exude a playful, Calder-esque quality, but they’re never investigated; they may elicit a quick giggle within Jeunet’s world of forced poetry, floating camerawork and rapid editing, but they suffocate any humane moments. Along with the typical hyperactive aesthetic, there are homages to Chaplin, Leone, and Hawks—but Micmacs mostly resembles Home Alone.

Jeunet must identify with the daffy heroes of this tale: armed with inconsequential allusions, he is a junkyard dealer of film references. Therefore, when Micmacs never coheres to anything more than a hodgepodge of calculated, familiar whimsy, it’s easy to shrug and conclude, as the quasi-hapless ensemble often do when their scavenged machines fail them, “What do you expect? It’s secondhand gear.”

One Comment

  • Nick, I completely agree with your assessment of Jeunet’s tired and over-emphasized quirkiness, although it seems very much descended from Terry Gilliam (rather than Home Alone), a kind of delight in the mal-equipped underdog that is infectious to a point, but never adequately captured or recreated (at least, in Gilliam, not since Time Bandits).

    Meanwhile, you mention Jeunet’s supposedly inoffensive class politics without developing the point much further (presumably due to stringent space constraints). Slumdog Millionaire seems like a handy inter-text here, another film that dilutes massive, global systems of subjugation, exploitation and inequality to a facile opposition between our endearingly impoverished and scruffy protagonists (often children, to boot) and slickly sleazy bad guys. Bowling for Columbine, meanwhile, seems slightly more successful for acknowledging the shear immensity of the aerospace and weapons manufacturing industries that are the antagonists for both Michael Moore and Jeunet. But I think we both agree that such issues are so haphazardly addressed in Micmacs that they barely merit mention (for better or worse). Great review!