A press day chat with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of “Micmacs”

Jean-Pierre JeunetIf you’re even a halfway serious film fan, you may have noticed that directors like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino do not make movies set on Planet Earth, they make movies set on Planets Anderson, Burton, and Tarantino. I’m a bit less of an expert on France’s extremely popular Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but it’s obvious that, even when his films are set in Paris, they’re really set on Planet Jeunet. His films have their own look and exist in their own reality.

As with Tim Burton, Jeunet’s roots are in animation. Together with his early collaborator, cartoonist Marc Caro, he made two films that pretty much destroyed the idea of France as a land where all movies were gritty examinations of the lives of depressed intellectuals (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Dystopic but decidedly non-realistic, “Delicatessen” and, to a much greater extent, 1995’s “The City of Lost Children” broke through internationally, with the latter becoming a popular midnight selection and attracting a geek audience that might have ordinarily rejected subtitled films. That was followed by his first solo production and also his first and, so far, only American film. 1997’s “Alien: Resurrection” was a domestic commercial disappointment that generated mixed reviews and more than a little fan hate in the U.S. — even its screenwriter, fan-master Joss Whedon, has entirely disowned it — but it was nevertheless an international success which is still warmly embraced by its jovial director. After that, Jeunet broke through even bigger with the worldwide success of “Amelie” in 2001, easily one of the most widely seen French films in the United States of the last couple of decades — so much so that it was simply referenced as “the French movie” in last year’s “Up in the Air.”

Dany Boon in Now, Jeunet is back with his first film since his worldwide box office and critical hit, 2005’s “A Very Long Engagement,” with his own take on Chaplinesque/Keatonesque comedy with just a dash of Rube Goldberg not-quite-sci-fi. “Micmacs” stars comic Dany Boon (“My Best Friend”) as the hapless Bazil, whose father was killed by a landmine and whose health and livelihood was ruined by a bullet — each produced by a ruthless arms manufacturer. Homeless, he is befriended by a ragtag assortment of seven eccentrics with various unique skills. Bazil enlists their aid in avenging himself against the two firms.

The film has done reasonably well in its initial New York opening, and will be expanding to more theaters this Friday. It’s generally also been a hit with critics, very definitely including PH’s own Jason Zingale.

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SXSW 2010: Micmacs

Directors can be a pretty serious bunch, so it’s refreshing to see guys like Jean-Pierre Jeunet having so much fun making their movies that it’s evident just from watching it. The French filmmaker has been surprisingly absent from the world cinema scene since 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement,” but his return was definitely worth the wait. Jeunet’s latest film, “Micmacs,” may just be his best yet – a whimsical crime caper that boasts his trademark visual style, a classic Max Steiner score, and an ensemble cast filled with familiar faces. Though it likely won’t have the crossover appeal of “Amelie,” “Micmacs” is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year.

Dany Boon stars as Bazil, a Parisian video store employee whose father was killed in a landmine accident when he was kid. After he’s shot in the head during a freak accident of his own, Bazil awakens to learn that he’s not only been replaced at work and had his apartment given away, but that the bullet which nearly killed him is still dangerously lodged in his head. With nowhere to go, Bazil is adopted by a group of eccentric, trash-salvaging inventors who live under the local junkyard. When he realizes that the military contractors who manufactured the bullet and landmine are located within the city, however, Bazil teams up with his new friends to exact revenge on the men responsible for ruining his life.

micmacs

Though a lot of Juenet’s films have a fairy tale-like quality to them, “Micmacs” takes it one step further by surrounding its main protagonist with quirky companions not unlike the Seven Dwarfs. But instead of Dopey, Grumpy and Sleepy, there’s a contortionist (Julie Ferrier), a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon), a girl who can calculate anything in her head (Marie-Julie Baup), and a guy who only speaks in idioms (Omar Sy). Each character has their moment to shine, but Pinon is the clear standout in a role that falls somewhere between his circus performer from “Delicatessen” and his ill-tempered lover from “Amelie.” Dussollier and Marié also turn in great performances as the film’s villains, but it’s Dany Boon who’s the heart, soul and funny bone of the story.

It’s hard to believe he wasn’t Jeunet’s first choice, because Boon seems tailor-made for the role – a modern day Buster Keaton with the ability to entertain the audience with even the most basic pantomime. Once the film moves into the revenge portion of the story, however, the comedy veers more towards the slapstick, with each zany set piece leading to the next, even zanier set piece like a Rube Goldberg contraption designed by Danny Ocean. It’s all done so effortlessly, and with Boon and his co-stars so charming throughout, that you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to walk out of “Micmacs” with a giant grin on your face.

  

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