Surviving long flights: “Micmacs” (2009)
22 January 2011
I’ve been doing a lot of flying in the last few months, which I hate, and I’ve discovered the solution: a DVD with subtitles (because planes are noisy) and an utterly distracting, twisting, funny story with actors whose faces you like to look at. Believe me, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs (the full French title is Micmacs à tire-larigot, which translates to something like “nonstop shenanigans”) is what you want. Central character Dany Boon (center below, whose stage name is derived from Fess Parker’s incarnation of the early American Indian-killer Daniel Boone) is delightful: he’s the subtlest of comedians, almost in the vein of a silent great like Buster Keaton, and he’s surrounded by a pretty contortionist (Julie Ferrier, the blonde below), a man eager to regain his place in the Guinness Book for being shot out of a cannon, and a wide range of other characters whose odd skills come in handy. Confession: I will watch anything by Jeunet, and I’m only sorry I can’t take Micmacs with me on my next flight.
Jeunet’s films create little worlds unto themselves — just remember the dark sewers and mad-scientist laboratories of Delicatessen (1991) and City of Lost Children (1995), or the magically bright Paris full of weird eccentrics in Amélie (2001). One of the things I find almost embarrassingly delightful is Jeunet’s penchant for the twee — teeny props or narrative details that have little to do with the story but create an almost tactile experience of viewing. These never seem cloying or saccharine to me. Think of the actor Dominique Pinon playing a haunting song on a saw in Delicatessen; the man in Amélie who loves to eat the “oysters” from the carcass of a roast chicken; the way the telegraph delivery man insists on skidding his bike on the gravel in A Very Long Engagement (2004); or the way the little-girl Amélie sticks raspberries on her fingertips:
Memories of those twee moments come up for me all the time (and certainly when I eat roast chicken or raspberries), but if such moments fail to entrance you on their own, perhaps Micmacs will appeal for its story of a man who decides to foil two competing czars of the armaments industry. It’s a tale too convoluted and unexpected for me to summarize/ruin for you. I can assure you that no matter how many hours you’re stuck on board, no matter whether the guy in the middle seat sticks his elbow into your ribs, and no matter how vile the smell wafting from the bathroom, you’ll lose yourself in Jeunet’s screen magic. Even better if you’re a French speaker, as the English subtitles miss some of the puns and the silliest humor that relies on the nuances of the original French.
Most of all, I love Jeunet for his unabashed love of film and his playful takes on old, old storylines. In Micmacs, there’s a great scene in which our heroes break into someone’s house — but the owner shows up! What will they do?!? In Delicatessen, Jeunet includes the loveliest scene of a date between a former clown (Pinon, a Jeunet regular) and the painfully shy Julie (Marie-Laure Daugnac), who decides to remove her glasses to be more attractive, even though this means she won’t be able to see anything. The very age-old familiarity of that scene only enhances its sweetness. All of this makes me believe that Jeunet loves film on a cellular level, and that in recycling bits of film story history he has found a means of cultivating the same love in his viewers. See Micmacs and let yourself enjoy that childlike pleasure too.