Micmacs -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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TORONTO -- Jean-Pierre Jeunet is the last silent movie director. Of course, there is sound galore in such films as "Delicatessen," the huge international hit "Amelie," "A Very Long Engagement" and his latest film, "Micmacs." But his comic instincts really do relate to the visual storytelling of Buster Keaton: Wry slapstick gags and chains of fateful events lead a feckless protagonist through the bewildering mysteries of life.

Never more so than in "Micmacs," a comic fable about a gang of misfits that takes on the weapons industry and blows their death machines sky high. With ingenious French comedian Dany Boon ("Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis") as his star, Jeunet should enjoy another worldwide success while Sony Pictures Classics settles for a domestic art house hit.

As Jeunet explains it, "Micmacs" owes much to the Disney cartoon "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." A homeless street performer in Paris named Bazil (Boon) is brought by a scrappy ex-con to a den of salvage artists. In a huge cave in a trash dump, they repair and recycle junk into everything from wind-up toys to objets d'art.

These "dwarfs" with descriptive names are Mama Chow (the cook), Slammer (just out of jail), Elastic Girl (an extraordinary contortionist), Remington (a typist), Buster (broken down), Calculator (a human measuring machine) and, finally, Tiny Pete (a creator of automated sculptures).

Their manufacturing cave already is humming when Bazil arrives, but he brings purpose to their lives. Bazil has been twice victimized by weaponry. He lost his dad as a child to a landmine in Morocco. An accident during a drive-by shooting -- another classic chain of freakish events by Jeunet -- has left Bazil with a bullet lodged in his head that might kill him at any moment.

When he identifies the manufacturers of the landmine and bullet -- in buildings that glare at each other across a narrow street -- he means to exact revenge. The gang joins him.

Every moment in the campaign to set the two death-factory tycoons against each other presents another opportunity for Jeunet mischief.

To break and enter each plant involves ingenious uses for secondhand objects and, often, Elastic Girl (the incredible, rubbery Julie Ferrier). To sabotage the attempts to arm an African terrorist bent on a coup d'etat requires intricate misdirection and uncanny impersonations. To obtain taped "confessions" from the arms industrialists necessitates kidnapping and an elaborate ruse.

The script, written by Jeunet with Guillaume Laurant, is a blueprint for complex cause-and-effect gags of increasing fantasy. In truth, the film is a tad exhausting. Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.

But Boon holds it all together with gentle clumsiness and improvisational clowning. Dominique Pinon proves a winning facial contortionist as Buster, who means to establish himself in the Guinness Book of World Records in any number of ways.

Omar Sy speaks in only well-worn phrases as Remington. Marie-Julie Baup displays impish charm as the human Calculator, and veteran Jean-Pierre Marielle brings great timing and presence to Slammer. Meanwhile, Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie make splendid cartoon villains.

Jeunet relies heavily on contributions from his regular crew (other than cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata). Herve Schneid's lickity-split editing pulls all the Rube Goldberg mechanics together, and Aline Bonetto's design and Alain Carsoux's visual effects imagines a surreal sort of Paris where fantasy can reign supreme.

Along with music by a young composer, Raphael Beau, Jeunet employs scores by the great Max Steiner from old Warner Bros. movies to add romantic swells to the slapstick action.

Then there is Nagata's camera, which seems to do pirouettes in midair and gently glide through a maze of actors and props, buildings and bridges. "Micmacs" re-creates the world as a fantasyland where people behave as animated figures and the landscape is strewn with amazing toys.

Production: Epithete Films/ Tapioca Films/Warner Bros. Entertainment France/France 2 Cinema/France 3 Cinema
Cast: Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Julie Ferrier, Dominique Pinon, Yolande Moreau, Omar Sy, Michel Cremades, Marie-Julie Baup
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Producers: Frederic Brillion, Gilles LeGrand, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Director of photography: Tetsuo Nagata
Production designer: Aline Bonetto
Music: Raphael Beau
Costume designer: Madeline Fontaine
Editor: Herve Schneid
Sales: TF1 International
Rated PG, 105 minutes