After almost single-handedly ushering in a new era of commercial viability for French cinema with the mesmeric vibrancy of Amelie, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's follow-up was the somewhat somber, sobering, almost Rashomon-esque romance A Very Long Engagement, which while not unenjoyable was at times meandering and a bit of a patience tester. Now, more than five years on Jeunet has opted to return to his steampunk roots with this unmistakable tale of indelible misfits and their uproarious campaign of mischief against the establishment, that plays like a cinematic greatest hits of everything that makes the great and gifted auteur so unique.
Centered on Bazil (Boon), another of Jeunet's trademark childlike outsiders, Micmacs charts his odyssey of highly-imaginative revenge against a pair of greedy munitions manufacturers, one of whom made the landmine that killed his dad, the other responsible for the stray bullet lodged in his own brain. Opening with some blackly comic slapstick Micmacs eases the audience into it's heroes mindset with everything we've come to expect and enjoy from the mad professor; the playful mood, the relentless soft focus, the plinking piano, the constant accordion, and the sweetly embarrassing moments with pretty young girls.
Homeless and jobless Bazil stumbles upon a rag-tag colony of scrap merchants who live in a warren-like bunker beneath a junkyard. Together with this loony-tune band of savants, bat-shit inventors, and idiosyncratic circus performers, Bazil hatches a scheme to wreak havoc on the two CEOs, each with their own eccentricities (collecting bits of famous historical figures – Churchill's toenail clippings, Marylyn Monroe's molar) whom he blames for his lot in life.
While there is little here that is not achingly familiar – from the homemade musical instruments, to the ever-present Dominic Pinon, right down to an in-joke for Delicatessen fans – this is more than simply the rehashing of a back catalogue. From the opening scene that sees Bazil lazily squeezing cream cheese straight out of the packet into his mouth while reciting the lines to The Big Sleep, Micmacs, first and foremost, is a love letter to cinema from a man who has suffered enough derision in his own time to realize that artistic snobbery is ultimately self-defeating as a means of appreciation.
This merry band of forgotten cast-offs, who refuse to let other people define their boundaries is right out of Pixar's playbook; the mid-section of mad-cap gadgetry and infiltration is pure Mission Impossible; while the mysterious rogue playing all sides against each other is nothing if not a salute to Sergio Leone. Even when the whimsy appears exhausted – the topic of arms dealing and it's deadly legacy seemingly addressed head-on – and the great man appearing to have gone all serious and political, Jeunet has enough about him to not only get his message across, but to turn the whole thing into an excuse to muck about with the effects deck for larks.
Micmacs is a striking return to form from one of the great, gifted filmmakers of our time, and a man who you only wish would work more often. That rarest of things – an unpretentious artist – Jeneut is a director unafraid to admit that for all it's pretensions of high-art, filmmaking is a medium that is fundamentally, first and foremost, about playtime.
Starring: Danny Boon, Dominic Pinon, Andre Dussollier, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Julie Ferrier, Yolande Moreau, Francois Berlande, Albert Dupontel
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics