By Camilla Royle
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This article is over 12 years, 3 months old
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Release date: out now
Issue 345

Micmacs is the story of Bazil, whose father is killed by a French landmine while fighting in Morocco and who is himself accidentally shot in the head by a bullet made by a different French company.

Finding himself homeless and forced to scrape a living busking on the streets, Bazil comes across a troop of scrap metal dealers living in a makeshift home on the outskirts of Paris. When he comes across the offices of the two arms manufacturers that caused his problems he decides to seek revenge – with the help of his new friends.

Micmacs is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet – famous for Amélie and Delicatessen. It is characteristically fast-paced and packed full of obscure facts and endearing details. The characters, like those in a cartoon, always have the tools they need – a giant cannon, a very strong magnet, various costumes – to carry out their increasingly elaborate plots to get the bad guys.

In one early scene Bazil wanders into a party held by one of the arms dealers, looks around for a disguise and conveniently finds a rack full of waiter outfits left unattended. It references the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as well as Sergio Leone and surrealist writer Jacques Prévert.

Like many of Chaplin’s films, Micmacs uses humour to ridicule people in positions of power. While Bazil and the other second-hand dealers are turning metal into useful gadgets and toys, the two weapons manufacturers are enjoying record profits from selling to would-be dictators. Of course, the heads of the two companies – located on opposite sides of the same street – are in bitter competition with each other, although when it suits them they also work together.

The film highlights the absurdity of capitalist wars in a way that a serious film might struggle to do. The businesses make weapons that they know will destroy lives but they treat it like any other profit-making exercise. Both weapons sellers come into contact with people from war-damaged countries. For example, one employs a Somali cleaner. But the voices of these workers are absent from the film, just as they are ignored and exploited by their bosses, leaving you to wonder what they are thinking.

The clinking of coins and ticking of clocks are a constant presence in the film although the lives of the characters seldom run like clockwork. When surgeons operate on Bazil after his gunshot wound they toss a coin to decide whether to leave the bullet in his brain – the coin lands on heads and they leave it in.

The other scrap metal dealers also have unlikely life stories and unusual skills – one is a contortionist, one can produce almost anything out of scraps and one has an amazing talent for counting. These skills would be of little use in the real world, but they all come in useful as part of Bazil’s plans.

Micmacs could be viewed merely as a film about a gang of “oddballs” but it is much cleverer than that. Much of it is fantasy, but some of it is true.

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