Do you ever go to see a film and find yourself wishing it would skip the boring early stages and get straight into the action? If so, Micmacs is for you.

Within the first five minutes of this film, we have seen young Bazil lose his bomb-squad father to a landmine in some remote desert; we have witnessed his mother's breakdown, seen him packed off to a strict Catholic school, and seen him escape; we have seen him as an adult mouthing along to the script of an old movie in the video store where he works, and we have seen him shot in the head.


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At this stage, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they'd gone to see a short, or that the story was about to be told in flashback, but it's not giving too much away to say that Bazil survives. Having lost his home and job and with a bullet still lodged in his brain, he has to get by on his wits, but fortunately he is soon adopted by one of the quirky residents of Tire-Larigot, a sort of secret cave built out of junk in a local scrapyard. Here this odd collection of characters, who include a contortionist and a former human cannonball, eke out a living like French wombles, making odd use of the things that they find. It's a happy-go-lucky sort of place where nobody is terribly ambitious. Until, that is, Bazil discovers the headquarters of the arms companies responsible for his father's death and his own injury, and decides to pit them against each other in an attempt to destroy them both.

What follows is a riot of slapstick humour, bizarre gadgetry, spectacular stunts and unlikely adventures, with the pace never slackening for a second. Bazil (Dany Boon) is an affable hero whose inventive single-mindedness sometimes blinds him to the good things he could be enjoying in the meantime, and Jeunet regulars have fun fleshing out the rest of the cast. Unfortunately the focus on action means we never get to know them terribly well - the ensemble characterisation doesn't come off as effectively as it did in, say, Delicatessen. So we continue to be entertained but we perhaps don't care as much as we should.

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Another factor mitigating against emotional involvement is that we never really feel our heroes are in danger. This is a bit like one of those Sherlock Holmes mysteries which is ultimately solved by a detail which the hero noticed early on but which Conan Doyle neglected to tell the reader about. Whenever things seem to have gone hopelessly pear-shaped it turns out that Bazil has already forseen the problem and set up a counter-ploy. This makes it difficult for the film to generate much tension.

That said, Micmacs is great fun. The audience I saw it with were in stitches most of the way through. It's beautifully filmed with that characteristic off-kilter Jeunet perspective that makes us see the ordinary in a new way. Bazil's bizarre schemes unfold delightfully and the dénoument is particularly impressive, bringing just the right note of melancholy into play as it reminds us what arms companies do in the real world. The story feels unbalanced and the effect is more like a trip to the circus than a conventional cinema experience, but I defy you not to enjoy it.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2010
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Satire on the arms trade, tracking one man's plan to blow up arms manufacturers.
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