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Philip Reeve has been watching MicMacs (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009. Cert. 12)

Films slip past me sometimes now that I live so far from cinemas.  How did I miss Mic-Macs?  Did it get no cinema release in the UK?  Was there no publicity?  Not to worry; it's on DVD now, and it's well worth watching.  

Alien: Resurrection
 Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been one of my heroes ever since his debut, Delicatessen, which he wrote and directed with Marc Caro back in 1991.  Their follow-up, City of Lost Children, was harder to like - beautiful but slightly unappealing - and then M Jeunet went off sans Caro to Hollywood to direct Alien: Resurrection which was legendarily, franchise-stallingly bad (although I suspect the fault lay more with the producers than the director, and there were still some lovely visual flourishes - Brad Dourif in his tailored lab-coat is the forefather of all the Engineers in Mortal Engines).  After that, thankfully, there were no more stints helming clapped-out Hollywood cash-cows; instead, M Jeunet returned to France to make Amelie (which, despite frequently being described as 'charming and quirky' actually is charming and quirky) and the magnificent World War 1 story A Very Long Engagement.  

A Very Long Engagement
And now, with very little fanfare as far I can tell, there is MicMacs, which combines some of the quirky sweetness of Amelie with a crazy bande dessine storyline which harks right back to Delicatessen.  The hero, Bazil, is a man who falls on hard times, and is rescued by a mis-matched 'family' of homeless oddballs who inhabit a glorious labyrinth of junk and salvage under a Parisian flyover. (I presume these are the MicMacs of the title, though I still have no idea what a MicMac actually is)  With their help he sets out to wreak revenge on the two arms manufacturers who have wrecked his life (one made the land-mine which killed his father, while the other produced the bullet which is lodged in Bazil's brain).  Through a series of increasingly complex ruses involving strange, scrap-heap machines, they start to turn the two armaments giants against one another...

It's all hugely unlikely, but likeliness is not the point here.  Jeunet films are fantasies, and even when they are set in present-day Paris he transforms it into a dream world.  His arms tycoons don't work out of soaring glass office buildings, but in a pair of identical 1930s towers which face each other across a narrow street.  The rooftops of Paris can't really be such a fantastic maze of smoking chimney-pots any more, can they?  The film's scrap-metal saboteurs perform feats out of Mission Impossible with equipment which could have been designed by the Wombles.  Even when he photographs something mundane, like people uploading videos to YouTube or stuck in a traffic jam among modern buildings, Jeunet gives it all a strange patina of age and difference.  Under the eye of his restless, gliding camera Paris transforms itself into a parallel world, much like the retro-future of Delicatessen (which was itself a nod to the retro-future of Terry Gilliam's Brazil).

Like all my favourite film-makers, Jeunet doesn't seem that interested in dialogue.  You sense he would have been perfectly at home in the silent era.  In the pre-title sequence he explains Bazil's background perfectly in a few swift and largely wordless scenes.  Later, at taxi-ranks and on roof-tops, there are visual routines worthy of Chaplin.  It's tempting to compare it to French comic-books, but that would be misleading, because while every shot is composed as beautifully as a Moebius strip, Mic-Macs isn't like a comic book: it's like a movie. It's also very sweet - a revengers' comedy in which good triumphs, romance blossoms, and villains are ingeniously undone.

As they say on French YouTube (apparently): Partager Cette Video.


Steve R. said...

It did come out two or three years ago, at least in London and on a limited release. I remember seeing the trailers then but didn't get round to seeing it. It definately looks interesting and dare I say, a little bit steampunk visually.

Bill said...

Have you ever seen any Jacques Tati films? I can't say I'm an expert, as I've only ever seen one (Mon Oncle), but he strikes me as the missing link between Chaplin and Jeunet. The physical comedy, minimal dialogue and whimsical Frenchness are all there.

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