Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Micmacs

The homeless are always so precious in the movies. The Mic Macs are a case in point. Banding together, they live communally in the share-and-share-alike spirit. They even pitch in to help a new arrival obtain his cartoonish revenge in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs (trailer here), which screens during the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its late May theatrical opening.

Getting shot in the head was a tough break for Bazil. Miraculously, he survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his brain, a constant Damocles Sword that could end it all at any moment. Jobless after his long hospitalization, he soon winds up on the streets. Fortunately, a rag-tag group of misfits takes him into their makeshift junkyard home.

One fine day, Bazil discovers the factories of the rival armaments companies that manufactured the bullet in his head and the landmine that killed his father years ago happen to be right across the street from each other. At this point, you can practically see the light bulb go off over his head. With the help of Elastic Girl, Calculator, Buster the human cannonball, and Slammer, a kindly old ex-con whose life was spared when the guillotine jammed, Bazil manipulates the arms dealing moguls into declaring was on each other.

Sad-faced Dany Boon truly has a gift for physical comedy. While the film dangerously invokes the spirit of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Boon’s expressive pathos largely withstands such comparisons. Veteran French character actor Jean-Pierre Marielle also brings a welcome sense of dignity to the kindly old Slammer. However, the rest of the oh-so cute Mic Macs could not be sweeter if they were drowned in honey. Yet, it is the villains that are truly problematic in Micmacs. Great movie villains are charismatic in their own evil way, like Alan Rickman in Diehard. Unfortunately, the arms dealers are simple caricatures held in obvious loathing contempt by Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant.

Still, there are several inspired scenes of Rube Goldberg-like lunacy and some rather physically impressive performances from Boon and Julie Ferrier as Elastic Girl (with an assist from body double Julia Gunthel). Jeunet, director of Amelie and co-director of City of Lost Children, has a kinetic visual style well suited to the eccentric material. It all looks great too, thanks to the richly detailed set pieces created by Aline Bonetto.

While the marriage of whimsy and didacticism is ultimately an uneasy match in Micmacs, Boon is a compelling protagonist throughout. Visually rich, but a bit underwritten, Micmacs should nonetheless prove popular with New York festival and art-house audiences. It screens during Tribeca on Thursday (4/29), Friday (4/30), and Saturday (5/1).