The Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast is back with another exciting episode! This time, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski eschew the big-time summer blockbusters in favor of the French comedy-fantasy MICMACS (Micmacs a tire-lairgot, or “Non-stop Madness”), latest surreal confectionery from supreme stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who charmed audience with AMALIE). Also this week, we bring you the latest news, the Cinefantastique Calendar of upcoming events, and previews of the week’s home video releases. All in all, it’s more fun than a Jerry Lewis festival!
The latest surreal confectionary from supreme stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet is occasionally poignant but not as wonderfully whimsical as intended.
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s collaborations with Marc Caro – DELICATESSEN (1991) and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) – established him as a purveyor of visually arresting cinefantastique that was occasionally deficient in drama. Since going solo with his Hollywood effort, ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), Jeunet has moved away from outright fantasy, but his imaginative visual sense remains intact, providing a view of the world that looks fantastical even when the situations are recognizable occurrences; e.g., the pet goldfish that is released into a river in AMELIE (2001) – and makes eye contact with its former owner before disappearing beneath the rippling surface. Jeunet’s latest effort, MICMACS, continues somewhat in this vein, often to good effect but without the consistent charm of AMELIE. Art house audiences and fans of the director’s visual style will find much to amuse them, but more general audiences will not find the story fully engaging.
MICMACS (fully titled Micmacs a Tire-Larigot [“Non-Stop Madness”] in its native France)follows a young boy who is orphaned when his father fails to disarm a land mine; later, as a young man, Bazil (played by Dany Boon) is hit in the head by a stray bullet, losing his apartment and his job. Living on the streets, he hooks up with a group of social outcasts and misfits living in an underground hovel carved out of a garbage dump, where they craft amazing tools and sculptures crafted from discarded junk. While out collecting some raw materials, Bazil stumbles upon the offices for two arms manufacturers: one responsible for the land mine that killed his father; the other responsible for the bullet still nestled close to his brain. Appalled by one manufacturer’s casual indifference to the human toll of his product, Bazil decides to bring both corporations to their knees, with the help of his motley friends.
MICMACS is at most borderline cinefantastique. Trading romance for satire, Jeunet uses the occasional surreal flourish (such as a character imagining the orchestra playing the dramatic music we in the audience are hearing) to juice up a story that is occasionally poignant but not quite as wonderfully whimsical as it is clearly meant to be. On some level, Jenuet intends MICMACS as a satire about the powerless getting back at the powerful, about bringing some kind of accountability to people who become rich off the misfortune of others. This lends some genuinely touching pathos, as when a tear trickles down Bazil’s cheek while he listens to an arms manufacturer deliver a jokey, self-congratulatory speech at a ritzy party, both figuratively and literally miles away from the impact of his product.
More often than not, however, MICMACS is more spoof than satire, a sort of playful French variation on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, with Bazil and buddies using subterfuge to outwit their more powerful opponents. It’s as if the sub-plot from AMELIE (in which she drives a pompous boss crazy by sneaking into his home and rearranging furniture, changing locks, etc) had been expanded into the main narrative. The result feels a bit like Dashiel Hammett’s novel Red Harvest (by way of YOJIMBO and FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), as if it had been staged by the Marx Brothers.
The script strings together zany episodes like set-pieces from a silent comedy; unfortunately, these amusing capers are only so amusing. Jeunet can be funny, but the explosive slapstick seen here simply isn’t his forte. Unlike Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST, the stunts and gags don’t build to a climax with an outrageous series of “can you top this” escalations; instead, they hit a plateau and proceed a steady altitude until a much-needed third act complication finally adds a small dose of suspense.
Meanwhile, there are occasional hints of romance between Bazil and a contortionist girl; they’re a nice touch, but they’re squeezed in like glue between the cracks in the comedy hijinx. With the focus firmly on the revenge caper, the lead characters are sketched too thinly to fully warm our hearts. Bazil is given little beyond the motivation of his back story – which is enough to make us want to like him and see him succeed, but not enough to make him tremendously compelling. In fact, the script can’t even be bothered to resolve his central problem: we’re told that the bullet wedged near his brain could kill him at any time, but this worrisome problem is simply forgotten – without so much as a deus ex machina.
Thankfully, Dany Boon’s sad-sack performance goes a little way toward helping us overlook the writing deficiencies, which don’t affect the rest of the cast as much. Neither are the supporting characters sketched in great detail, but the rag-tag gang of charming eccentrics hold their own on screen because they needn’t carry any emotional weight; their individual quirks (talking in cliches, accurately sizing up up distance and dimensions at a glance) are more than enough.
The story ends with a clever twist, and everyone pretty much gets what they deserve, but the effect is slightly hollow. To its credit, MICMACS mixes in some seriously dangerous characters without feeling as if they wandered in from another movie, but the overall mixture of pathos and humor never hits critical mass. With its little guy taking on big business, MICMACS feels a bit like a fictionalized version of a Michael Moore documentary; unfortunately, even with his superior visual skills, Jeunet cannot match the laughs and the tears of BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.
MICMACS (Micmacs a tire-lairgot [“Non-stop Madness”], 2009). Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written by Jean-Pierre Jeanet & Guillaume Laurant; dialogue by Laurant. Cast: Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrie, Omar Sy, and Dominique Pinon.
The latest surreal confectionary from supreme stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet (fully titled Micmacs a Tire-Larigot [“Non-Stop Madness”] in its native France) receives a limited theatrical release from Sony Pictures classics, opening in New York on May 28, with engagements following on June 4 in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco.
The story follows a young man, orphaned as a child, who is hit in the head by a stray bullet, then hooks up with a salvage artist who creates an underground home in a dump, filled with magical tools and sculptures crafted from discarded junk. No, it doesn’t sound like a traditional fantasy film, but Jeunet’s work always always falls within the realm if cinefantastique by virtue of its fanciful way of looking at the world, creating stylized landscape of the imagination. Jeunet directed from a screenplay he co-wrote with Guillaume Laurant, who supplied the dialogue. The cast includes Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrie, Omar Sy, and Dominique Pinon.
Y’know, people probably shouldn’t be this gleeful about issues of mortality, but in the cases of the movies being discussed in this episode, we’re kinda glad they are. This episode features interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and George A. Romero, both of whom have previously addressed matters of life-and-death in their own, unique ways, and have decided that there’s still more sport to be had from the subject.
Twisted Love: Dany Boon (left) and Julie Ferrier meet peculiar in MICMACS.
In MICMACS, Jeunet gives us a cockeyed protagonist in the person of Bazil (Dany Boon), a man who quite by chance winds up at the precipice of the eternal when a stray bullet gets lodged in his brain. This makes him not so charitably inclined towards the manufacturer of said bullet, a matter only exacerbated when he discovers that the land mine that killed his father in the Middle East was created by a neighboring company. His only recourse: Take down both corporations, with the help of a ragtag assortment of unusually talented junkyard misfits. For such a dire theme, the film turns out to be quite a lighthearted adventure, with Jeunet deploying all his powers of visual invention into the narrative, while also making copious nods to film history, particularly to the works of silent comedians and Sergio Leone.
Home on Deranged (Sorry): Joris Jarsky (left) wrangles Kathleen Munroe in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
George Romero is also taking a few pages from cinema history, most specifically from classic westerns. In SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, the group of renegade guardsmen we met in DIARY OF THE DEAD — led by Alan Van Sprang — decides they’ve had enough of zombies, and aim themselves for a respite on an island off the coast of Delaware. Problem is: Not only is the place already infested with the walking dead, but they’ve become a rather peculiar stake in a kind-of range war between waged between two feuding clans. As always, Romero mixes zombie assaults with some particularly vivid death scenes — for both living and dead — along with some trenchant observations of our current, fractious times. Turns out the departed still have something to say to their survivors, and it has nothing to do with moving into the light.
An interesting if ultimately unsatisfying attemp to extend the franchise
By Steve Biodorwski
After the disappointing ALIEN 3, this fourth film in the franchise represents a marked improvement, but it fails to match the level established in the first two films. The premise is interesting, and the visuals are entertaining, yet somehow the film never quite gells. Still, you have to give points to everyone involved for trying so hard.
Part of the problem is that, with familiarity setting in, what once seemed “alien” now seems almost ordinary, making it difficult if not imposible for this third sequel to ratchet up the level of dread that marked Ridley Scott’s original ALIEN. Of course, the other obvious hurdle is that the previous film killed off the lead character, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and any attempt to bring her back was bound to feel like a phony Hollywood contrivance. Continue reading “Alien: Resurrection (1997)”→
AMELIE, the delightful French romantic comedy that became a hit on the U.S. art house circuit in 2002, weaves several threads into a single story. Amelie (Audrey Tautou) is a young waitress who has grown emotionally distant because of her childhood, withdrawing into her own imagination. She starts to come out of her shell after the accidental discovery of a childhood cache of mementos in her apartment, presumably left behind by a previous tenant. She resolves to reunite the objects with their owner, but without revealing herself. Her success leads to a series of attempts to intervene in other people’s lives (including that of her widowed father, whose garden gnome she sends on a trip around the world, as a way of goading him into traveling himself), but she avoids taking credit for her successes.
In short, Amelie is a neurotic, living out an extremely complex life involving intricate plans that conform to her inner life, instead of taking the simple, obvious path that would occur to anyone else. (The film’s full French title, which translates roughly as ‘The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain,’ suggests the character’s world view better than the pithier Americanized version.) This way of life, turning every step into an adventure, is what makes her interesting as a character, but we can also see how it is interfering with her own life. Fortunately, her path crosses with a young man (Matthieu Kassovitz), who has a strange obsession of his own: collecting discarded snapshots form public photo booths and reassembling them for his scrapbook. It’s obvious from the first that these two are meant for each other, but the question is how will they ever get together? Amelie embarks on a series of stratagems that make her seem intriguing by keeping herself at a distance, briefly glimpsed at a distance or heard over the telephone, but always delaying a close-up meeting. It’s as if she’s afraid that the reality will not live up to expectations, and the question is whether she is really in control of the situation, or is the situation controlling her? All her strategy seems designed to arouse her would-be lover’s attention, but at the same time she seems incapable of breaking out of her habitual behavior in order to finally meet the man of her dreams.
Since this is a comedy, we know things will work out in the end. The joy of the film is in seeing how Amelie’s intricate plans will play out — and also in seeing whether she will be able to drop those plans, which are really a shield she keeps between herself and the world. If all this makes the film sound like psychotherapy, truthfully it is anything but. The visual style is light and filled with fun, and several comic interludes keep us amused while we wait to see how the love story turns out. (Especially funny is Amelie’s secret tormenting of a cruel grocer, who picks on his slow-witted employee: Amelie sneaks into the man’s apartment and switches doorknobs and slipper sizes, so that the man starts to think he’s going crazy, the familiar items of his home suddenly — ever so slightly — different from what he remembers.)
There is something about foreign language films that has always turned off American audiences. (What? Are we so illiterate that we can’t stand to read subtitles?) When the film in question is a French love story, the aversion seems to increase exponentially. Yet, AMELIE is a genuine pleasure, a film filled with clever wit and amazing visuals. It’s a fantasy of falling in love, air-brushed with all the cinematic technique you can imagine, including computer-generated special effects that make Paris look like some kind of idealized nirvana. What?s amazing is the way the love story lends some much-needed heart and soul to all the visual touches. The result is a perfect synthesis: every emotion in the screenplay is illustrated with a memorable image, and every memorable image is underlined with genuine emotion. It is entirely appropriate that the film would be nominated in the obvious visually-oriented Oscar categories (Art Direction, Cinematography) and for its wonderful screenplay. In short, this is a film that women will love, but that shouldn’t stop the guys from seeing it either. If you simply love good film-making, you?ll love this film. NOTE: The film was nominated in five categories by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including Best Foreign Language Film. The other nominations were for Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound, and Screenplay. Unfortunately, there was no acknowledgment for Jean-Pierre Jeunet as director, but he shared a nomination with Guillaume Laurant for the script. AMELIE (a.k.a. Le Faubuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain, 2002). Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Screenplay & Dialogue by Guillaume Laurant, from a story by Laurant & Jeunet. Starring: Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovit, Yalande Moreau, Artus de Penguern RELATED ARTICLES:
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet is probably most well known to American mainstream audiences for directing ALIEN: RESURRECTION, the fourth entry in the science-fiction franchise starring Sigourney Weaver. But in his native country, he has made a trio of stylish features which he helped conceive and develop from scratch. The first two, DELICATESSEN and THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, were done in collaboration with Marc Caro. The third — and so far his best work — is AMELIE, a romantic comedy fantasy that stands out as one of the best films released last year.
Because of the elaborate visuals in his films (with and without Caro, who served as ‘artistic director’ on DELICATESSEN and CITY), Jeunet is thought of more as a directorial stylist than an ‘auteur,’ but he contributed to the writing of all three of his French films, and he conceived the story and structure for AMELIE before bringing on a collaborator to work on the final script. Interestingly, AMELIE displays many of the stylistic elements apparent in his earlier work, but this time they are wed to a story that is far more personal and charming, with a warm depth of feeling missing from the black comedies he made with Caro and from his Hollywood horror movie. Continue reading “The Fabulous Worlds of Jean-Pierre Jeunet”→