I’m an adherent of the “auteur theory,” at least to the extent that I think certain directors can be generally relied upon to deliver films worth watching. Michael Haneke, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, etc.—they may not always hit a home run, but their successes outweigh their failures by a wide margin. Micmacs à tire-larigot caught my eye because it was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of Amélie fame (A Very Long Engagement has also been recommended to me, and I shall see it soon, I hope).
Micmacs à tire-larigot is no Amélie, but it’s an extremely entertaining, lovely, sweet, funny film. I’ve never been to Paris, and while I’m sure it’s a magical, splendid city, it could never live up to the luminous images Jeunet gives us in his movies. Micmacs à tire-larigot has amazingly beautiful cinematography, all the more surprising since the images are that of an urban landscape, not rolling hills or forests or jungles, or the seashore or any other spot one might think of when “beauty” is mentioned. Nor, while I’m sure Parisians are a friendly, helpful lot (sure I am), would I expect to find such good-hearted eccentrics as those populating Jeunet’s world. But that’s alright, films aren’t required to mirror reality, and Micmacs à tire-larigot is obviously set in a feel-good, fantasy world. Good for it, and good for us.
The father of young Bazil dies removing mines in North Africa; Bazil’s mother falls into a catatonic state, and the young boy is shipped off to an orphanage. As a grown man, Bazil (Dany Boon) is struck in the head by a stray bullet, loses his job and apartment, and wanders the streets with the knowledge he may die at any time if the bullet in his brain decides to shift itself.
However, he’s adopted by a “family” of exceptionally talented eccentrics who live hidden beneath a huge scrap pile. Their lives are dedicated to “recycling” trash discarded by others. Bazil has a plan, however: he wants to ruin the companies which manufactured the land mine and bullet that changed his life (conveniently for Bazil, the companies—one run by Marconi, the other by Fenouillet—are located across the street from each other).
Assisted by his new family—senior citizen Closet (aka Placard), former human cannonball Fracasse, earth mother Tambouille, inventor Pierre, math wizard Calculette, wordsmith Remington, and a lovely contortionist—Bazil sets in motion a series of complex plans which…well, let’s just say, considerably disrupt the armaments business (and the lives of the two corrupt magnates).
One of the nice things about Micmacs à tire-larigot is the ensemble nature of the film. Bazil, once he finds his new family, merges into the group. Some get more attention than others, to be sure—Bazil’s relationship with the contortionist is stormy but everyone can see what the outcome will be, so they share a lot of screen time, while Petit Pierre is somewhat ignored—but overall this is not “Bazil’s story.” Indeed, the two arms manufacturers are depicted in considerable detail, and are not your typical movie villains . Oh, they’re villainous alright, but not one-dimensional—in one scene, Marconi boasts to his young son, “I was compared to Rimbaud” at a ceremonial dinner (neglecting to mention he compared himself to Rimbaud in his speech!), while Fenouillet collects celebrity body parts (Marilyn Monroe’s molar, for instance).
The performances are all wonderful. Again, I have to stress this isn’t a Dany Boon “vehicle” (despite being virtually unknown in English-speaking countries, he’s apparently a huge star in France), though he gets to demonstrate some of his mime talents and he’s the catalyst for the plot, but he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and his screen time is not disproportionate. Everyone else is absolutely solid, and I won’t single anyone out. But trust me, all the performances are spot on (and fans of Amélie will see some familiar faces).
It must be said, however, that Micmacs à tire-larigot does not delve deeply into the lives of its characters (Marconi and Fenouillet aside). It’s more of a “caper” film, with each member of the “gang” contributing his/her special expertise to accomplishing the Rube Goldberg-ian schemes. Everyone gets little touches of characterisation, some a bit more, but this isn’t “about” Bazil or the Rubber Woman or even the arms manufacturers, it’s a feel-good, clever movie set in a fantasy world where every plan of Bazil and his friends works (not perfectly, but without too many major failures) and the villains clumsily fall into every trap. Aside from one curious lapse (three African villains are shot to death), no one is seriously hurt, despite explosions, car crashes, and so forth.
I cannot in good conscience say Micmacs à tire-larigot is “as good as” Amélie, because it’s not. They’re two very different films, Amélie is quite exceptional and touching, while Micmacs à tire-larigot is less “personal” and more light-hearted, with more slapstick humour. It’s still a lovely, pleasant and very very good movie, though, and I do recommend it highly. I really enjoyed watching it, far more than almost any film I’ve seen recently.
PS: the title has been translated variously as “Non-Stop Shenanigans,” “Manipulation—and a Lot of It” (Jeunet’s translation in an interview), “A Bunch of Dodgy Dealings,” “Non-Stop Madness,” etc.