The Austin Chronicle

Vengeance Is Fine

Jean-Pierre Jeunet wages war on war in the spirited 'Micmacs'

By Marc Savlov, June 25, 2010, Screens

"All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." – Jean-Luc Godard

Or, if you're Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 10,000 guns and a girl: Bullets, bombs, and one Godardian girl corkscrew their way through this other French auteur's new film, Micmacs à tire-larigot, in a ceaseless ballet/barrage of orgasmic ordnance and extraordinary actions. Led by Dany Boon's slightly addled ex-video store clerk Bazil, whose brainpan contains a stray round from a random drive-by shooting, Jeunet's band of Parisian misfits (among them Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon and relative newcomer Julie Ferrier) wages war on war itself.

Micmacs is no agitprop polemic, though – as if the creator of Delicatessen, Amélie, and A Very Long Engagement would be so gauche. Filtered through the feverishly whimsical imagination of the hyperstylist Jeunet, the very concept of weapons and those who deal in them becomes less an exercise in ethical considerations than an opportunity to fill the screen with antic comedy and true-blue romance. From start to finish, Micmacs is like a pacifist's beautiful dream of love and vengeance and yet more love. Jeunet's lovesick salvo crackles with romance but strives for something more tangible, and more surreal.

Imagine a seamless, digitally assisted blending of Chuck Jones' classic Road Runner cartoons with the outrageously intricate gags of Buster Keaton and the manic mechanics of Rube Goldberg, and you're almost there. Now back it all up with varied snippets of classic Hollywood film scores from the great Max Steiner (King Kong, The Big Sleep) and voilà!: vintage Jeunet, timeless, lovely, and altogether human.

"I needed some old music," Jeunet said while in town for the film's South by Southwest screening in March, "to accompany the joke at the beginning of the film. It worked so well that we thought we could try to put similar music to accompany the other action scenes in Micmacs. When we saw that it was so efficient we decided to buy some of Max Steiner's music and use it throughout the film. He made music for one film per month – his output was crazy – and we had the good fortune to find good recordings, from the Seventies, in stereo. Sometimes we put 14 or 15 seconds of it in front of a scene and, wow, it was perfect. I had nothing to cut, not a second, it worked so marvelously. I imagine Max Steiner is laughing somewhere."

It's been six years since Jeunet's previous film, A Very Long Engagement – the director spent two years working on the Life of Pi adaptation before exiting the production over budgetary constraints – but if anything, Micmacs is a return to the organized chaos of his earlier films with then-partner Marc Caro, notably Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children.

"I wrote Micmacs very quickly after working on Life of Pi because I had to make a film! I was literally starving to do this. And in my notebooks I had an idea to do something with weapons-sellers that was a story of revenge, but with a band of silly people, like the Seven Dwarfs."

One of those "seven dwarfs" is Julie Ferrier's Elastic Girl, a character/creation worthy of an entire other film. Jeunet, however, points out something most audiences (hopefully) won't even notice: Elastic Girl is actually two different actors digitally pasted together: "Julie Ferrier is a fantastic creator of characters onstage, and very flexible, but not enough to play the contortionist. So we also hired a Russian girl who does an erotic contortion show in Berlin – believe me, it's very dirty ... my Japanese DP was very moved – and we made some tricks, digitally, to put Julie's face on the body of this other woman. And it worked wonderfully."

With a typically convoluted storyline that speaks to the director's personal feelings about arms, arms dealers, and the romance of the gun, Micmacs could be mistaken – in America, certainly – as an anti-gun screed. For the director, however, it's anything but.

"I don't want to say that it is a political film or a message film," Jeunet explains, "because, you know, it is not a scoop to say that to sell weapons is not good. For me, if I can give one hour and 45 minutes of pleasure to the audience, it's a big deal. It's not just peanuts. Because for that time they are going to forget the real universe. It's also a little selfish, because I give to myself the pleasure of making the film, you know?

"At the end, if the audience can learn something from the film, if they can think a little bit about the weapons and the weapons dealers, then that is good, too. But it won't change the world."

Micmacs opens in Austin this Friday. See Film Listings for review.

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