The Suicide Shop (Le magasin des suicides): Cannes Review

Patrice Leconte’s cheery animated black comedy about suicidal adults seems mainly aimed at young audiences.  

Based on Jean Teulé’s novel, Leconte's latest borrows a page from Tim Burton's sketchbook for this bleakly comic animated film.

There’s a whiff of a Tim Burton shroud here, but the humorous creepiness of Edward Gorey and the Addams family are better references to the black comedy feature animation The Suicide Shop, a tongue-in-cheek Parisian-set romp in which the warm humanism of eclectic director Patrice Leconte shines through. Based on Jean Teulé’s novel, oft adapted for the stage, this film version is full of musical numbers (the French lyrics rhyme in the subtitles) and has a cheery, old-fashioned look that could appeal to young teens attracted to skull motifs, though it may be too juvenile for the tattoo and piercing crowd. After its French release in September, the French-Canadian-Belgian coprod should be ripe for television. It ought to be mentioned that, unlike the novel, Leconte opts for a very bright and happy ending suitable for all ages.

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In a gray, gray city where recession rhymes with depression, everyone is gloomy and anxious to leave this cruel world. Suicides rain from tall buildings, with people dropping like dead pigeons on the streets below. Public suicide is forbidden, however, and here is where the Tuvache family has successfully found a niche. Their quaint Suicide Shop, tucked away on a back alley, sells ropes and poison, guns and knives, and more exotic implements for a quick trip to the Sweet Hereafter.

The whole Tuvache family works in the store, father Mishima demonstrating the merchandise, mother Lucrezia behind the cash register and kids Vincent and Marilyn glumly encouraging customers to end it all. Into this scowling family, an unusual baby is born: Alan, whose gap-toothed smile and incurable optimism is the despair of his father. Instead of depressing customers, he cheers them up with his light-hearted skipping and whistling, that not even beatings can stop.

Leconte adds several strong scenes not in the novel, including a delightful sequence of Alan arranging for his little pals to climb a tree and ogle his plump sister as she dances naked to Oriental music he’s given her for her birthday; or the comic cruelty of his father teaching him to smoke and inhale deeply. In general, the trick of reversing good and evil, parent-child relations, becomes familiar and ho-hum almost at once, again suggesting young audiences as viewers.

Like the drawings by Florian Thouret and Régis Vidal, there is an old-time quality to Etienne Perruchon’s scoring of Leconte’s black humored lyrics, resulting in cute songs that don’t stand out for originality. A Greek chorus of hideous red-eyed rats observe the action and sing their comments.

The film is available in both 2D and 3D versions, though the 3D print seems to mainly use the technology to layer the flatly drawn figures and objects in rows, like a children’s stand-up fairy tale book.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of competition), May 24, 2012

Production companies: Entre Chien et Loup, La Petite Reine, Caramal Films, Diabolo Films, ARP Sélection

Cast: Bernard Alane, Isabelle Spade, Kacey Mottet Klein, Laurent Gendron, Isabelle Giami

Director: Patrice Leconte

Screenwriter: Patrice Leconte based on a novel by Jean Teulé

Producers: Gilles Podesta, Thomas Langmann, Michelle Pétin, Laurent Pétin, André Rouleau, Sébastien Delloye

Art Direction, graphic design: Florian Thouret, Régis Vidal

Editor: Rodolphe Ploquin

Music: Etienne Perruchon

Sales Agent: Wild Bunch

No rating; 79 minutes.