by Molly Templeton
Micmacs (Sony Pictures Classics, R, ), director Jean-Pierre Jeunet explained before his new film screened at the South By Southwest Film Festival in March, is slang for “shenanigans,” a word which sounded impossibly playful in Jeunet’s thick French accent. “Impossibly playful” is also a tidy way to describe the film, which is as sweet, joyful and imperfect a revenge fantasy as you might hope to see.
Micmacs is the story of Bazil, a quiet loner type played by the gifted physical comedian Dany Boon. Bazil’s father dies abruptly; years later, a film-obsessed Bazil is working in a video store when a stray bullet lodges itself in his head. He survives but loses his job and his apartment. He’s taken in by a patchwork family of junkyard-dwelling oddballs, among them a contortionist, an inventor of delightful Rube Goldberg-y contraptions, a human calculator and Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon as a would-be world-record setter. When Bazil figures out that two rival arms dealers are responsible for his father’s death and the bullet in his brain, he embarks on a quest for payback that requires the special skills of every one of his new friends.
Color, in Jeunet’s off-kilter worlds, manifests in a gorgeous and unsettling manner, giving ordinary comforts a burnished glow and sinking creeping evil into cool green. The unforgiving brightness of reality is a rare sight. Jeunet and cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata (La Vie en Rose) give Bazil’s story a sepia-toned sheen that amps up its fable-like quality. The world is a cold, hard place, but find your people, and warmth and richness will fill your days.
Clever, sweet, beautifully shot but unsatisfying, Micmacs has a strange self-awareness that’s quirky and cute and ultimately distancing. There’s relevance in the idea of the cast-offs of society taking down those rich white men who manufacture the means of destruction for people the world over, but it’s lost amid the tricks played and traps set. When the self-selected, comforting but small world of Jeunet’s outsiders works, it’s magical; when it falls short, as in Micmacs, it’s just charming — which isn’t such a terrible thing. — Molly Templeton
Micmacs opens Friday, Aug. 20, at the Bijou. This review originally appeared in a different form at http://wkly.ws/q2