French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (A Very Long Engagement, Amélie) latest, Micmacs-a revenge tale laden with arms trade satire and a light dash of romance-has finally hit store shelves in the “U.S. of A.” For those film lovers unfamiliar with Jeunet’s style, he’s like the Michael Bay of whimsy-bombarding his audience with blasts of vivid colors, absurdly cartoonish characters and classical depictions of love in place of explosions, cleavage and helicopters.
Although Micmacs’ world is our mundane own, through Jeunet’s lens it is unrecognizably alive. With his knack for fantastical world-building and painterly eye, Jeunet’s visual palate is as surreal and unique as Tim Burton’s…if Burton traded his black nail polish for glitter. His films are the definition of style over substance, and while Micmacs leans too heavily on that notion-more so than its predecessors in the Jeunet filmography-there are few directors whose art stands to gain more from a proper high-definition treatment. My full review of the Blu-ray after the jump.
Like many of us, Micmacs’s protagonist Bazil (Dany Boon) is a film geek and instantly relatable on that level. As a young lad he was sent to an orphanage after his father, a soldier, was killed dismantling a land mine, understandably sending his grieving mother for a one-way trip off the deep end. Now an adult, Bazil is a quiet, quirky video clerk who spends the slow hours mouthing along word-for-word with his favorites like The Big Sleep. Unable to escape the perils of weaponry, poor Bazil soon falls victim to a freak accident in which a car chase-shootout leaves him with a bullet in his brain. The surgeon deduces that removing it would leave Bazil paralyzed while not doing so would put Bazil’s longevity at the mercy of the bullet, so with the flip of a coin he decides to risk the latter.
Home from the hospital, Bazil learns his prior position has been filled in his absence, so he resorts to some hilarious mime street performances to make a little bank. Mostly broke, homeless and alone, Bazil’s luck perks up after he’s adopted by a family of circus misfits living in a Paris scrap yard: A feisty contortionist that goes by Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), an on-the-fly math wiz nicknamed Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), Buster (Dominique Pinon), an egocentric human-cannonball stuntman, Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès), a wide-eyed robotics artist, and a few less-featured others.
While wandering the streets for junk to bring home, Bazil discovers the ominous headquarters of two competing arms manufacturers-located across the street from one another-and has a revelation when he notices the logos: one constructed the land mine that took away his father and the other developed the ammunition that’s been “on his mind”. With his new family and their unique abilities, Bazil plans a Yojimbo-esque revenge plot to end the rival dealers’ businesses that involves heists and other hijinks.
Despite the subject matter, Micmacs thankfully ignores any and every opportunity to make a deep political statement beyond the inherent “people kill people, but the gun helps” mentality. It is a light-hearted adventure with an undemanding story (both its weakest and strongest aspect). I can’t imagine anyone with a hint of a heart or sense of humor not cracking a smile at least a handful of times throughout the movie, but unlike Jeunet’s previous efforts, the film’s impact amounts to little else.
Jeunet is a master of simplicity and charm, but with past characters like Amélie he has also laid their souls out for the audience to see. In Micmacs, there are few personal connections we can make with the one-dimensional characters, which highlights their silliness to an extent that all the proceedings come off as superfluous. No stakes=no investment.
Despite all this, it is certainly a sufficient pick-me-up on a rainy/snowy afternoon thanks to the Jeunet’s aforementioned knack for packing his frame with eye-catching, often witty visuals. Devoted fans of Jeunet will be able to forgive most of what I’ve mentioned, but first-timers would be better served starting with Amélie. Overall, Micmacs is an amusing yet immediately forgettable ride.
The technical side of this 1-disc Blu-ray is, much like the film itself, a mixed yet mostly-solid bag. Sony Pictures Classics has treated this Blu-ray kindly on the visual front. The picture is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen with crisp, full colors-a necessity with Jeunet’s work-and minimal film grain is present only to prevent the image from looking excessively glossy. Additionally, the darker scenes, while few and far between to begin with anyhow, were not washed out, as is a common issue with flawed transfers.
On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio leaves much to be desired. The dialogue is noticeably faint in parts, which was frustrating despite the fact I speak nary a word of French. Reading subtitles, one still appreciates the chance to hear the inflection of every line-delivery. Meanwhile, the abundant action-oriented sound effects are primed to shake the leather off your couch, so prepare to have your thumb reflexes tested as you participate in the Micmacs volume balancing act. And while I would never recommend a foreign film be viewed in any language but the one in which the lines originated, it should also be noted that Sony has quashed the choice altogether by solely providing a French track.
The special features are standard fare and their entertainment value is directly proportional to the viewer’s interest in not only the flick itself, but also Jeunet’s body of work as a whole. “The Making of Micmacs” is a comprehensive look at the complete production as well as Jeunet’s rehearsal procedures and meticulous attention to detail. The “Director’s Commentary” speaks for itself.
“Q&A with Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Actress Julie Ferrier” showcases a conversation the duo had with an audience at the Tribeca Film Festival and, while not particularly informative, it provides an interesting peek at Jeunet’s playful personality and creative process. “Animations: Absurd Deaths” is a collection of brief montages outlining the development process for a comically morbid, Monty Python-like animation sequence in the film. A theatrical trailer is also included in addition to a bunch of previews.