Watching a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film is a bit like taking in a master class of cinema. From the darkly humorous Delicatessen (with collaborator Marc Caro) to the epic A Very Long Engagement, Jeunet’s are never anything less than visual feasts, and his latest, Micmacs, is no exception. From the film’s opening montage of silent movie hijinks to its Tex Avery inspired denouement, Jeunet crafts an ode to classic cinema that manages to employ familiar techniques in jaw-droppingly original fashion.
The film opens in 1979, with a French soldier attempting to disarm a land mine in the Sahara with expectedly negative results. We are then introduced to young Bazil, the son of the fallen soldier, and, in a lengthy, dialogue-free sequence, watch as his mother goes mad with grief, Bazil is carted off to/escapes a brutal private school, and grows into adulthood, where he works as a clerk in a small video store. One evening, while watching a classic Bogart film, Bazil (Dany Boon) hears gunfire outside of the store, and rushes into the street to see what’s happening. In a marvelously choreographed sequence, Bazil takes a stray bullet to the head, and wakes a short time later in the hospital, with said bullet still lodged in his skull.
Bazil leaves the hospital only to discover that he’s been evicted and lost his job, and, now homeless, he takes to the streets, making ends meet by performing for crowds and mooching off of other buskers. He soon meets a kindly old man who introduces him to a group of brilliant misfits who live in a local scrapyard, including a genius inventor, a young woman gifted with the ability to calculate just about anything in her head, a tomboyish contortionist, and a human cannonball (played by Jeunet mainstay, Dominique Pinon). Bazil fits right in with the group, and begins to work with them, collecting scrap. One day, while puttering around the city in the group’s scrap wagon, Bazil accidentally stumbles upon a pair arms factories directly across the street from one another, one emblazoned with same logo as the one on the bullet lodged in his head, the other bearing the same logo as the landmine that killed his father. It is here that Bazil hatches a plan, and, with the help of his fellow misfits, sets in motion a series of events that will see these two war profiteers go to war with each other.
Much like Jeunet’s beloved Amelie, Micmacs is shot in a highly stylized manner, utilizing various media, CGI, and an assortment of techniques ranging from stop-motion photography to hand-cranked cameras. Much of the film relies on physical action and comedy, with lots of silent movie era style gags and over-emoting on the part of many of the actors, that, when coupled with the cartoonish visual style, lends the film a vintage quality that, for cineastes, should prove downright irresistible. The performances are across-the-board fantastic, with the exceptional Boon leading the charge, using tics and mannerisms, exaggerated gestures, and meticulous comic timing to make his Bazil the closest thing to a flesh-and-blood cartoon as one’s apt to see. It’s all wrapped up in a gloriously composed and visually stunning package, filled with the director’s trademark absurdist humor, ornate set pieces, and, as something of a strange bonus (at least for fans of esoteric cinema such as this), scenes that are at once remarkably violent and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet at his eccentric best, and that’s really saying something.
Micmacs comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, sporting an absolutely beautiful 2.40:1 transfer that boasts warm colors, an exceptional level of fine detail, and a very nice sense of depth to the image as a whole. The French DTS HD 5.1 audio track offers crystalline highs, robust bass, and a host of atmospheric effects that encompass the whole soundfield. Dialogue is mixed up front and center, and has a rich, organic quality to it, while directional effects are expertly mixed, making for a wonderfully immersive aural experience.
Extras include a charming commentary by Jeunet in which the director offers up some funny and interesting tidbits about the production. While English is obviously not the director’s first language, he does a solid job getting his point across here . We’re also treated to a lengthy making-of featurette made up entirely of on-set footage, and giving the viewer a sort of “fly on the wall” perspective. Other extras include a short interview segment with Jeunet and actress, Julie Ferrier (the contortionist, La Môme Caoutchouc), as well as several trailers for other Sony releases.
After seemingly going “mainstream” with the much more serious minded and epic love story, A Very Long Engagement, I’m delighted to see Jeunet return to his eclectic roots with Micmacs. It’s not a film that will appeal to everyone, but fans of Jeunet’s will certainly be entertained while casual viewers will be rewarded with an expertly crafted and visually striking piece of cinema that will hopefully open them up to not only the world of Jeunet’s films, but to the films that inspired them. Micmacs is a cult-classic in the making, and easily earns my highest recommendation.