It’s hard to dislike a Jean Pierre Jenunet film: he’s so inventive and visual and economical (this is a director who can really tell a story), but you have to wade through so much self-indulgence and what can only be described as Cirque du Soleil-style gurning! Mimacs, his first for a long time – the last being a positively restrained A Very Long Engagement – is being heavily trailed and marketed. I’m sick to death of seeing its trailer at Curzon cinemas, although they do trail the narrow band of movies that the Curzon is showing, so the range is limited – that said, it is a very annoying trailer. In it, you quickly surmise that a man gets shot in the head by accident, finds his way into the bosom of a family of misfits who live underground and then takes revenge upon the armaments firm that made the bullet which remains lodged in his head. The only key piece of information missing from this hyperventilating trailer is that … mmmm, the film is FOREIGN! An increasingly dishonest practice from the distributors of foreign-language films that make it to a wider release: mask any trace of a foreign tongue from the trailer. As I wrote in last week’s Radio Times, this is like taking jokes out of a trailer for a comedy. Poor old Jeunet, it’s always happening to his films, because he’s – sacre bleu! – popular; Amelie and A Very Long Engagement were similarly mis-sold as films of non-specific origin, and the only word in the trailer for Micmacs is … “Boo!”
Anyway, it’s about as French as a film can be. Dany Boon, who plays the lead, actually seems to mutter away in a bizarre French dialect, which isn’t even subtitled. Maybe it’s a language he has invented. Anyway, I almost wished Micmacs was a silent movie. It’s visually splendid, with loads of incredible imagery and tableaux and shorthand, but the script is really horrible. There are puns in it, even though it’s French – one about Rimbaud and Rambo (yawn!), and, worse, one about “gaze” and “gays” – although I’m reluctant to criticise the finer points of a screenplay (co-written by Jeunet) that wasn’t written in English! Perhaps it’s more subtle and nuanced in the native French.
For all the gurning and screaming and bendiness, there is a very serious and very contemporary message within Micmacs about arms dealing and modern warfare and terrorism, but for the most part all this ballast is lost under that trademark Jeunet style: everything’s composed and hyper-real, like a Coen Brothers movie without the restraint or nods to the real world. It wasn’t as irritating as the trailer – in fact, it’s far slower and more considered than I expected. But it’s tiring to watch a movie where everybody is eccentric and nutty. I certainly preferred Amelie. And A Very Long Engagement. And Delicatessen. And City Of Lost Children. And … oh, everything he’s ever done except the rubbish Alien one. It’s much better than that. I was hoping the allusions to Bogart and Bacall at the beginning would bear fruit (the credits sequence is beautifully realised in the style of a Hollywood film noir), but they are lost in the overall kinetic madness. Pity.