by Richard von Busack
A CHILDREN’S MOVIE for adults, Micmacs by Jean-Pierre Jeunet concerns a group of derelict junkyard dwellers who go adventuring. They are led by Bazil (Dany Boon), who was unmanned by the loss of his parents: one to a peacekeeping action in Morocco, the other to insanity. He grew to be a video-store clerk so rapt in movies that he could recite all the lines in The Big Sleep. One day, he was hit by a stray bullet—an accident that cost him his job and his home and leaves him vulnerable to sudden death. At loose ends, Bazil is scooped up by a group of friendly scavengers. They decide to help him expose a pair of competing arms manufacturers: wealthy predators who have been selling weapons throughout Africa.
Like Jacques Tati, Jeunet seeks out the old brown Paris, of canal bridges, railroad stations and elephantine 1950s factories. Jeunet (Amélie) banks on the charm of the cast, and they’re charming in wee doses. Giulietta Masina look-alike Julie Ferrier (doubled by contortionist Julia Gunthel) plays an Elastic Girl who keeps surprising us by unfolding out of nowhere. As a criminal with a good line of patter, Jean-Pierre Marielle has a Hugoesque story of how he escaped capital punishment. Yolande Moreau plays “Mama Chow”; she adds some maternal sweetness as the den mother of the group.
Pieces by the kinetic sculptor Gilbert Peyre—works that have some kinship to the art of Sebastapol sculptor Patrick Amiot—charm us just by being there. These tidbits cover up the film’s tendency to do little but marvel in its own ingenuity. Everyone here has a story of how they ended up discarded: Mama Chow’s tale is that she lost her children at the mirror maze at the fair. With its many references, borrowed Max Steiner music and tendency to seem like an eerie kid’s matinee, Micmacs also seems to vanish into the movies it reflects.