I didn't participate in the world's love affair with Amélie, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 film about a Parisian waitress played by Audrey Tautou. I found the film too cute and smug, and I didn't care for its excess of childlike wonder. But I deemed it not a terrible way to spend a couple of hours, and I moved on. Then I saw 2004's A Very Long Engagement, which reunited Jeunet and Tautou and brought a sense of childlike wonder to - the brutal carnage of trench warfare in World War I. I recoiled.
I recoil anew at Jeunet's tone-deaf fantasy-comedy Micmacs, which brings a sense of childlike wonder to - people who are killed and maimed by landmines. The hero is a man named Bazil (Dany Boon), who knows trouble. When he was a child, his father was killed by a landmine in the Sahara desert. Years later, as Bazil is working at a Paris video store, a stray bullet lodges itself in his head. He loses his job and has to scrounge for money in the Metro and quaintly sleep under a piece of cardboard. I suspect these scenes are one reason this performance has been compared to Chaplin. But many decades have passed since the heyday of the Little Tramp, and along with domestic violence, homelessness isn't something we laugh at in movies anymore.
At a trash dump, Bazil stumbles into a warren where a group of charming eccentrics live. Each has a superpower, or at least a strong interest. One can do complex calculations in her head. Another is a contortionist. Still another builds elaborate mechanized contraptions. I appreciate the design of the warren, which is grungy and complicated like a set in a Terry Gilliam film. Jeunet's vivid design sense is indeed his strongest suit. But there actually isn't anything remotely charming or funny about living in a trash heap, as the inhabitants of the Philippines' massive and dangerous Payatas dump would tell Jeunet, if he asked.
Bazil traces the bullet in his head to an arms manufacturer, and he decides to demolish it, along with the rival arms manufacturer across the street. These companies' chiefs (Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet, Franois Marconi) are, we're told, responsible for all kinds of mayhem worldwide, especially landmines that maim innocents. Bizet and his gang retaliate in a series of heists that lack the logic and precision of great heist films like Rififi.
I despise the global scourge of landmines, and I'm scandalized that successive U.S. administrations, including the current one, have declined to accede to the treaty banning mines. They're a horror, as Micmacs makes graphically clear, in its whimsical fashion. But combining horror and whimsy this way is tasteless.