In “Micmacs,” a man seeks revenge on the soulless companies responsible for manufacturing the weapons that killed his father and left a bullet lodged in his own head. Dark stuff, no? Except “Micmacs” isn’t a gritty thriller but a whimsical comedy — which you might have guessed up front if I’d told you it was by “Amelie” artisan Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
It’s his first film since “A Very Long Engagement,” and he has once again written the screenplay with regular collaborator Guillaume Laurant. Luck and chance play significant roles, as usual. All the characters, even the bad guys, are creative and resourceful. Elaborate, fanciful schemes are the norm. I suspect this is what the world looks like in Jeunet’s head all the time.
Our hero is Bazil (Dany Boon), a Chaplin-esque man who doesn’t talk much but has an expressive face and a penchant for getting into droll adventures. Bazil’s dad, a soldier, was killed by a land mine when the boy was young. Thirty years later, while working in a video store, Bazil is hit by a stray, random bullet. Since removing the slug and leaving it in his skull would both be risky, the doctors flip a coin to decide what to do.
Bazil recovers from the injury but is now without a job or a place to live. Lucky for him, there’s a group of kind, quirky folks who live in a junkyard! Led by the matronly Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau), this band of misfits includes a woman called Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), who is the offspring or a surveyor and a seamstress and can measure things just by looking at them; a contortionist named Tambouille (Julie Ferrier); a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon) intent on getting into the Guinness Book of Records; a fellow called Remington (Omar Sy) who speaks entirely in fractured idioms; Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), a gruff but kindly ex-convict; and Tiny Pete (Michel Cremades), who looks like a French mouse and loves to devise new machines out of spare parts.
This odd assortment of castaways eagerly offers to help Bazil accomplish his goal, which is to make the two weapons manufacturers go to war against each other. The CEOs of both companies are loathsome, dishonest men who deserve comeuppance, of course. One, Fenouillet (Andre Dussollier), collects famous people’s body parts and has his eye on Mussolini’s eye. The other, Marconi (Nicolas Marie), brags to his little boy about how he compared himself to Rimbaud in a speech to shareholders. The men’s companies are located across the street from one another. Each is the other’s nemesis. Turning them against each other proves to be easy work indeed, though the fun of it is in how complicated and clever Bazil’s plans are.
The lead actor, Dany Boon, has been in a couple dozen French films in the last 15 years, but this is either the first one I’ve seen or the first one where he was memorable. He has a natural gift for gentle physical comedy and plays Bazin as a lovable, mischievous, slightly befuddled soul. He has the makings of a recurring character, like the Little Tramp, Mr. Hulot, or Mr. Bean.
No matter how serious the situations are, Jeunet treats everything like a cartoon, adamantly refusing to let real-world concerns kill the buzz. Bazil gets shot in the head, for crying out loud! Then, a few scenes later, he catches an old Tex Avery cartoon on TV in which someone also gets shot in the head, for laughs. “See?” Jeunet seems to be saying. “Anything is funny if you don’t take it seriously!” He invites us to spend 104 minutes in his kooky little world, and it’s a pleasure to do so.
B+ (1 hr., 44 min.; French with subtitles; )