Fun and French

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“Micmacs” is the latest film from the whimsical and often surreal imagination of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie,” “A Very Long Engagement,” “Delicatessen”). Jeunet likes to explore the idea of how fate and coincidence control our lives, so his films often show how big events can be traced back to small occurrences.

“Micmacs” opens in the Sahara, where a group of soldiers is standing around watching one of their men try

to disarm a landmine. Unfortunately he fails and is blown up. The news of his death sends his grieving wife to a sanatorium, where we never see her again, and his young son, Bazil, to a Catholic boarding school, where he is terrorized by the nuns. Years later, while working at a video store, Bazil (Dany Boon) is shot in the forehead by a gun that falls from a speeding car as he stands inside the shop. Debating whether to remove the bullet or leave it where it is, the doctor decides by literally flipping a coin, and the bullet remains.

While he is in the hospital, Bazil loses his job to a pretty young girl, and he drifts around the city for a while. His experiences are punctuated by several Chaplinesque scenes of homelessness reminiscent of the silent era of films, when sorrow was often tinged with comedy. Eventually, he meets up with a group of mismatched junk dealers who live together as a quasi-family in a cavernous workshop built inside the scrap heap. Each of these strange characters has an unusual interest or talent. One is a contortionist; another can precisely calculate sizes and distances; yet another holds the Guinness record for a distance shot from a cannon. They all look as if they’d run away from the circus. Bazil fits right in.

Through another series of coincidences Bazil discovers the identities of the manufacturers of both the landmine that killed his father and the bullet that hit him in the head. One is a greedy warmonger with a passion for antique cars. The other is a greedy munitions dealer who collects random body parts from historic figures such as Hitler, Churchill, Mussolini, and even Marilyn Monroe. Bazil devises a plan to gain revenge against both men and enlists his newfound friends to help him carry it out. The result is a delightfully unpredictable sting operation full of amusing characters and unexpected gags.

“Micmacs” is not as good as Jeunet’s previous films, but fans of his style of cinematography and storytelling will certainly enjoy it. At times he lets his cinematic tricks and techniques overshadow the story, and his characters are often too cartoonish to evoke any true emotional connection. But his background details are delightful. Watch for the unusual gadgets designed by the junk dealers, for example, and the movie posters for “Micmacs” that appear on billboards during the chase scenes. Take a break from the big-budget action films, formulaic romantic comedies, and raunchy teen comedies of summer to enjoy this delightful little French pastry of a film.

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