Dany Boon and Julie Ferrier, in 'Micmacs'

Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
(2010, R, 105 min)
★ ★ ★

Directed and co-written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Micmacs is a whimsical French comedy that walks a fine line between sweetness and indulgence, but finds the right balance. It’s a farce of broad physical gestures and wide-eyed expressions that could be from the silent era were it not for the sound. Jeunet and his characters show a playful innocence as they conduct a massive caper to right a wrong, like Ocean’s Eleven on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Dany Boon stars as Bazil, who experiences two tragedies. First, as a child, he loses his father to a landmine in Algeria. Then as an adult, while working in a video store where he recites the dialogue of old Hollywood movies, he is caught in the crossfire of a shootout and ends up with a bullet in his brain. The surgery to remove it could leave him a vegetable, but if left alone it could kill him at any moment; how his doctor’s decide his fate is pleasingly absurd.

By the time he’s released from the hospital, Bazil has lost his job and his home. He gives street performances to get by until he is found and embraced by a group of misfits who live in a salvage yard where they take broken scraps and refurbish them in new and inventive ways. They do the same with people. Bazil, on a junk-finding expedition for the group, stumbles upon two weapons manufacturers — on one side of the street the makers of the landmine that killed his father, and on the other the makers of the bullet in his brain. He crashes a party for one of the companies and cries while he listens to the CEO boast about profiting from death. Bazil wants to destroy them.

Boon has a gruff, stubbled face, but a physical and emotional presence like Charlie Chaplin, making Bazil a sad grump with a heart of gold. His love interest is La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier), a contortionist with big, bright eyes who expresses as much emotion with her twisting limbs as with her face. Jeunet directs with visual exuberance, reveling in the rich details of Aline Bonetto’s production design and pausing for moments of subtle enchantment amidst the highly stylized mayhem as the arms dealers are done in by our heroic outsiders, who would rather use their ingenuity to create things instead of destroy them.