Friday, September 18, 2009

Toronto FilmFest Reviews: Micmacs (A Tire Larigot)

Some directors can skip gracefully between styles and tones. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is not one of those people. Everything he makes is a whimsical romp...which was probably a mistake in the case of Alien: Resurrection. Still, it's clear that Jeunet tries to make up for this by varying his subject matter wildly. Aside from the aforementioned Alien movie, Micmacs A Tire Larigot--or just "Micmacs", as it's apparently being called in English--is probably his most divergent topic for a film, tackling as it does the international arms trade.

The protagonist, Bazil, is taken away to a boarding school as a child after his father is killed by a land mine. He escapes and grows up to be played by French star Dany Boon, scraping by as a video-store employee. Then one night a gun battle erupts outside the store and Bazil takes a bullet to the head. He survives, but with the knowledge that the bullet couldn't be removed and could cause him to drop dead at any time. Furthermore, while he was in the hospital, he lost his job and his home.

Now Bazil's reduced to living his life day to day as a homeless street performer. (This whole first act showcases Boon's knack for Chaplin-esque silent comedy, and Jeunet's love of Rube Goldberg devices.) Eventually he stumbles across an old man who takes him to meet his ersatz family of street performers who live in a junkyard, including an ex-human cannonball (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), a girl who's a human calculator, an African would-be writer who keeps scrambling his metaphors (the subtitles were clearly straining to convey this character's dialogue) and a contortionist, Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrer) who immediately develops a crush on Bazil. They welcome him in as one of the team and invite him to live with them in exchange for salvaging scrap, which is how they make most of their money.

So life isn't too bad for Bazil now...until, by a fluke of circumstance, he runs across the headquarters of the two arms companies that manufactured the mine and the bullet that collectively ruined his life. Armed with this knowledge and the various skills of his new friends, Bazil swears revenge against the two CEOs.

Sounds pretty dark, right? Like the basis for a Death Wish movie or something? Well, rather amazingly, the movie remains one of Jeunet's fairy-tale confections. That's partly due to the fact that Bazil's plan for revenge is less about killing everyone with a katana and more along the lines of playing a series of elaborate practical jokes on them. In fact, if anything the movie veers a little too far into goofiness at times, which, given that the villains are responsible for the kind of real-world atrocities that kill thousands every year, can border on the tacky.

Still, who wouldn't want to see the merchants of death brought low by the forces of creativity and love, rather than by violence? Obviously the movie is an impossible dream, but it's a charming and beautiful one for all that.

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