Like most monolingual Americans, I can't speak more than a half dozen words in French (or any language other than English). When I visited Paris a few years ago, I attempted to greet shopkeepers with a friendly "Bonjour," only to have them all, without fail, reply to me directly in English so that I would stop mangling their beautiful language. I mention this because I have no idea what the title 'Micmacs' means exactly. From what I gather, it's Parisian slang that doesn't have a direct translation in English. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet says that it equates to something like "Shenanigans." Perhaps the most fitting explanation I've heard is that the full French title, 'Micmacs à tire-larigot', essentially means "A Shitload of Trouble." That certainly seems to capture the spirit of the movie better than any other translation.
Jeunet first burst onto the cinematic scene with the apocalyptic black comedy 'Delicatessen' back in 1991. That film and follow-up 'The City of Lost Children' earned him (and co-director Marc Caro) a strong cult following. Jeunet then branched out on his own and made his way to Hollywood for the misguided and widely-reviled 'Alien Resurrection'. He returned to France and rebounded a few years later with his masterpiece and biggest international hit, the delightfully weird romantic comedy 'Amélie'. He followed that with the less successful but still well-regarded period romance 'A Very Long Engagement'. The next several years were spent working on an adaptation of the Yann Martel novel 'Life of Pi' that eventually fell through.
The failure of the 'Life of Pi' project put Jeunet in a mood to get back to his roots. In many ways, 'Micmacs' reclaims the anarchic spirit of his early films. French comedian Dany Boon stars as Bazil, a hapless video store clerk who is shot in the head by a stray bullet after witnessing a motorcycle and car chase outside his store. Bazil survives with the bullet left lodged in his brain, but soon finds himself unemployed and homeless. He's eventually taken in by a band of eccentric misfits and former circus performers who live in a junkyard. There's the human cannonball (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), the contortionist (comedienne Julie Ferrier), a kooky inventor, a conspiracy theory nut who can speak only in clichés, and a young math savant, among others.
One day, Bazil discovers that the armory that manufactured the bullet in his head is coincidentally located directly across the street from a rival arms dealer that happened to supply the land mine that killed his father (a soldier) years earlier. With the help of his new friends, Bazil sets out on a mission to put both firms out of business by playing the CEOs of each against one another, 'Yojimbo'-style.
'Micmacs' is instantly recognizable as a Jeunet film, in both his distinctive visual style and warped sense of humor. The picture is loaded with great slapstick and sight gags. (In one running joke, posters for this movie itself litter the city, frequently depicting the very scenes we see them in.) The director also freely indulges in animated fantasy sequences, an obsession with pointless list-making, and convoluted Rube Goldberg-ian chain reactions.
If anything, 'Micmacs' may feel a little too familiar to the director's fans, like a grab-bag of his favorite tricks and conventions. Despite its political topicality (which is fortunately never too heavy-handed), the story feels slight. 'Micmacs' is not a masterpiece on the caliber of 'Amélie', but even a superficial diversion from Jean-Pierre Jeunet contains more wonderment and cinematic bliss than five movies from almost any other filmmaker alive.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Micmacs' is distributed in the United States by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Annoyingly, the disc opens with a promo advertising 3-D Blu-ray (this isn't a 3-D movie) and four movie trailers before the main menu.
I miss real colors. It feels like ages since I've seen them in a movie. I'm talking about natural, organic colors captured on photographic film, the kind you might actually see in real life every once in a while. These days, most movies are digitally color graded into all sorts of strange, unnatural shadings. Directors have even gone so far as to recolor their old films in some misguided attempt to make them look more "modern" or something. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a huge proponent of this process. His 'Amélie' was one of the earliest feature films to use a Digital Intermediate from start to finish, which allowed him to pinpoint manipulate the colors in every portion of every frame into whatever outrageous combinations he felt like. Since then, he's only taken this practice even further.
'Micmacs' may have the most skewed color balance of any Jeunet film yet. Most of the movie is suffused with an amber warmth, while flesh tones practically glow orange. The cartoonish style is clearly deliberate, and colors on the Blu-ray are undoubtedly rendered with the precision that Jeunet wants of them. Nonetheless, they just look weird – so weird that I found it distracting to watch. I'm not going to fault the Blu-ray for a filmmaker's stylistic decision, but the radioactive skin tones took me out of the movie on more than one occasion.
If not for that, the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is pretty great. The 2.40:1 image is very sharp and detailed, with excellent contrast and shadow detail. Although the picture was shot on 35mm film, grain is kept to a minimum, yet doesn't look artificially filtered. The movie does have a very "digital" appearance, but again that's probably exactly what the director wants. I'm surprised that he hasn't started shooting on digital video yet.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is likewise quite impressive. Although technically comedies, Jeunet's movies never have front-heavy, sedate audio mixes. The sound design in his films is just as intricate as the visual design. 'Micmacs' features a lot of immersive surround activity that creates a convincing three-dimensional soundfield. Gunshots and explosions also deliver a nice kick.
However, the biggest explosions at the munitions factory don't hit the deep registers typical of most overwrought action movies. I'd also say that while the musical score has a lot of body, it sometimes sounds a little bloated. Regardless, these are small quibbles in a great soundtrack.
This is a French film made in France by a French director. It stars French actors and takes place entirely in French settings. Let me be clear about this: dialogue in the movie is all French. There is no English dub option on the Blu-ray. English subtitles are positioned within the 2.40:1 movie image, and are safe for Constant Image Height projection.
The Blu-ray has the same assortment of bonus features as the comparable DVD release.
I first saw 'Micmacs' at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, and it was easily my favorite movie there that year. Unfortunately, even though it was picked up for American distribution by a major studio like Sony, the film never got past limited release in the United States. Its untranslatable title probably did it in. The movie is great fun, and will surely please fans of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. In technical respects, the Blu-ray has excellent audio and video quality (despite my dislike of the weird color scheme). It also offers a couple of interesting supplements. Highly recommended.