Reviews

'Micmacs' Could Make Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton Squirm with Jealousy

In the highly stylized and inimitably executed scenes that owe as much to the Three Stooges and Rube Goldberg as to comedic luminaries like Keaton and Chaplin, Micmacs resembles nothing so much as watching a sporting event of the highest caliber, a quarterback on the hottest of streaks, hitting every pass, every note, and making it all look way too easy.


Micmacs

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Dany Boon, Dominique Pinon
Distributor: Sony
Release date: 2010-12-14

For all of it’s originality and novelty, Micmacs, the latest offering from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet may seem rather familiar to longtime fans. While the film bristles with cute ideas and unique, brilliantly executed gags, it also functions as an homage to early silent cinema, featuring clownish bits and routines unencumbered by dialogue that would do Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton proud. Or make them squirm with jealousy.

But Micmacs also provides a telling glimpse of Jeunet’s growth as an artist and his growing mastery as a director. Fans of Jeunet’s debut feature, Delicatessen, will find much that seems familiar in Micmacs. Where Delicatessen was occasionally choppy and uneven, though, Micmacs is made with the technical skill to pull it off. Jeunet’s development from a good filmmaker to a great one is thrown into sharp relief here, and it’s quite a sight to see.

At it’s best, in the highly stylized and inimitably executed scenes that owe as much to the Three Stooges and Rube Goldberg as they do comedic luminaries like Keaton and Chaplin, Micmacs resembles nothing so much as watching a sporting event of the highest caliber, a quarterback on the hottest of streaks, hitting every pass, every note, and making it all look way too easy. Jeunet and his performers stick every landing that confronts them. Jeunet’s masterful comic timing is also in full bloom, whether artfully building tension towards an inevitable conclusion or punctuating a thoroughly everyday scene with a sudden burst of pitch-dark slapstick.

Jeunet is not an island, however, and the success of Micmacs is dependent upon a cast that can pull the gags off at the highest level. Luckily, Micmacs is staffed by performers who deftly and delightfully handle the gags that Jeunet throws at them, which is no mean feat considering the demands placed upon them. Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon is entertainingly over the top as a ravening, raging rascal of a human cannonball, while Dany Boon’s shy, everyman performance belies a staggering gift for physical comedy.

Micmacs also allows Jeunet to stretch his wings with gadgets, arming his misfit crew with a stunning array of inspired DIY things and toys. Far from the polished, ornate gizmos of City of Lost Children, the robots, toys and surveillance equipment of Micmacs are no less intricate or entertaining. These charmingly haphazard devices bring to mind the mechanical circuses of Alexander Calder, and find their parallels in the schemes and scams that power the film. Seemingly slapdash, constructed out of whatever materials are at hand, these deceptively ornate gizmos and grifts are the clockwork heart of Micmacs, the gears that move every piece into it’s proper place, and just in the nick of time. The schemes and scams that unfold throughout the film do so with impeccable timing and, perhaps more importantly, with a real sense of wonder.

Dominated by golden, almost sepia tones that lend it an almost classical look, Micmacs itself seems like one of these automata, an intricate machine in which ever gear and coil is finely aligned, simply waiting for a button to be pushed before it springs into action. It’s in this design, however, that Micmacs makes it few missteps.

While the film stays perpetually light, charming and amusing, it does so at the cost of any real emotional impact. Romances seem tacked on and easily won loyalties are taken for granted. Least forgivably, the characters that populate Micmacs are more akin to caricatures, less creatures in themselves than tools that exist only for the conceit of the film. The storytelling is undeniably clever and entertaining, but at the end of the day, there just isn’t much there there.

The film is not without a technical misstep here and there – Bazil’s occasional high octane flights of fancy, brought on by the damage the bullet has wrought on his brain pan, feel distinctly out of place, coming off as weirdness for the sake of weirdness, out of step with the world of the film. A brief animated foray into odd deaths throughout history is fun for what it is, but ultimately seems similarly shoehorned in. These are quibbling, secondary concerns, though, that ultimately fail to mar an otherwise excellently crafted, delight of a film.

The special features for Micmacs are pretty much cursory, starting with a standard issue commentary that can safely be avoided by all but the most ardent Jeunet fans. Also on hand are storyboards and animatics for some of Micmacs animated scenes, and a brief question and answer session with the director and performer Julie Ferrer culled from the TriBeca Film Festival. While Jenuet himself is lively and charming on stage in front of his fans, it’s ultimately footage that, once again, probably won’t hold the attention of many but the most earnest and interested Jeunet boosters.

By turns funny and sweet, Micmacs is above all else a joy to watch, an exercise in the pure pleasures of cinema that displays the creative flow and technical mastery of a filmmaker at the height of his powers and totally confident in his work.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image