Film Review: Micmacs (2010)

Micmacs is hard to classify as a film. It's a comedy about people living in a junkyard waging war against weapons manufacturers, but it's not a dark comedy. It's a slapstick comedy, but most of the humor is derived from Rube Goldberg-like machines and schemes. The lead actor gives an expressive performance, but it is done mostly through mime and Charlie Chaplinesque physical comedy. It is, ultimately, a joyous movie experience, if you like mime, physical comedy, cartoon violence, and mild social commentary. Bazil has faced two major tragedies in his life. As a young boy, his father was killed by a landmine in Moroco. As an adult, he was shot in the head and left with a bullet lodged in his brain that could kill him at any moment. He returns from an extended hospital stay to find he has been evicted from his house and replaced on the job. He spends a month working as a street mime before being taken in by Slammer. Slammer lives with Calculator, Elastic Girl, Buster, Tiny Pete, and Mama Chow. Together, the group earns their living sorting and reselling scrap in a junkyard. Bazil discovers that the landmine manufacturer and the bullet manufacturer are rival companies located across the street from each other and sets out to destroy both businesses with the help of his new friends.

Despite the massive amount of exposition I just delivered, the film does not dwell on these rudimentary details for very long. There is just enough dialog to introduce each character and establish Bazil's long series of wild schemes. Everything else is visual storytelling that throws us straight into the action.

Micmacs is the brainchild of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the French writer/director behind Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie. Once again, he crafts an imaginative vision of life in France uninhibited by the standards of reality. It makes perfect sense in a Jeunet film, for example, for each member of Mama Chow's family to have survived a run-in with a weapon. The details that seem too good to be true--a contortionist being carried in a large collapsible cardboard box, the arms dealers across the street from each other, the silent but brilliant inventor of scrap part robots--become realistic as soon as the film establishes its bizarre and humorous tone in the introductory scenes.

The director casts his new world in dull shades of brown, orange, and gray to reflect the equipment the group has to take down state of the art weapons manufacturers. It's oddly warm and appealing. The characters and settings are so whimsical, so inviting, that a muted, sepia-tinged lens becomes as vibrant as an early Technicolor feature.

Micmacs is advertized as "a satire on world arms trade" in some promotional material. Technically, it is. It is not, however, a particularly serious or biting satire. It can't be when much of the running time plays like a cross between The Tramp and Looney Tunes. When the film does hit its major targets, the satire is clear, concise, and non-threatening. Jeunet is not taking any kind of controversial stand on the issue. If anything, Micmacs is as much of a satire as the last ten minutes of Happy Feet; the film wouldn't exist without the social impetus, but can easily be enjoyed without feeling like you're being preached to about a specific political agenda.

Rating: 8/10

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