Jean-Pierre Jeunet reached the height of whimsy with his 2001 film Amelie, the intricately designed and beautifully shot chronicle of a young woman doing good deeds for others. Since then, he may have gotten trapped by audiences expecting the same arch cuteness, and his output has slowed. Micmacs backtracks a little on the impressive blend of whimsy and seriousness that Jeunet displayed in 2004’s A Very Long Engagement, contenting itself mostly with elaborate, visually impressive set pieces that are like live-action versions of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
There’s a bit of social commentary to the story of Bazil (Dany Boon), a sad sack who finds himself jobless and homeless after taking a stray bullet to the brain during a drive-by shooting. Bazil hooks up with a misfit band of salvagers who live in a junkyard, and he enlists their help to get revenge on both the company that manufactured the bullet stuck in his head and the one that manufactured a land mine that killed his dad decades earlier. Conveniently, the two companies are located right across the street from each other, and their respective head officers are quite susceptible Bazil and his friends’ shenanigans (the loose translation of the French slang title).
Jeunet displays endless creativity in his design of the schemes that Bazil cooks up, and the movie is as much a visual delight as any of his past work. In its portrait of a decaying industrial city, Micmacs recalls Jeunet’s dark early films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, but it’s far more lighthearted, interested mostly in sight gags and puns (some of which are lost in translation). Toward the end, Jeunet gets a little too preachy about international arms dealing, and the movie works better as a slapstick cartoon than a satire. Micmacs may lack the emotional depth of Amelie or A Very Long Engagement, but it’ll keep you smiling almost all the way through.