LONDON: ‘Micmacs,’ ‘The Time That Remains’

Posted by · 2:38 pm · October 19th, 2009

Dany Boon in MicmacsI am presently seeing films at the London Film Festival at a greater pace than I can write them up — expect a round-up of curt (by my standards, at least) capsule reviews either later today or tomorrow.

Some films, however, demand to be reviewed in pairs, as is the case with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest, the frothy action caper “Micmacs,” and Elia Suleiman’s rather more subdued Cannes entry “The Time That Remains,” which I saw this afternoon and yesterday respectively — two polar-opposite films that nonetheless both blend naive physical comedy with a political agenda, to very different tonal effect.

“Micmacs” (**)

As a filmgoer, few things are as dispiriting as the sensation that everyone on screen is having more fun than you — and not being able to join in. Such, I regret to inform, was my experience watching the latest eccentricity from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amélie,” “Delicatessen”), which floods the screen with inventiveness, enthusiasm and his trademark sepia-stylized visuals — special kudos to Aline Bonetto’s production design — but is so claustrophobic, and so convinced of its own charms, that the narrative is lost somewhere in the bustle.

There’s no need to dwell on the story, which concerns a hapless down-and-out (French comedy megastar Dany Boon) who, with a collected gang of oddballs, seeks to bring down the arms manufacturers indirectly responsible for his father’s death, since it largely operates as a springboard for a series of elaborate visual gags and gizmos, as well as a multiple homages to assorted golden ages of French and Hollywood cinema alike. (Boon’s character is a former video-store geek, with a clear physical affinity for the comedy of Buster Keaton.)

As it hurtles from one elaborate comic set piece to the next, it’s never exactly dull to watch but the characters within our band of heroes are so thin and tonally indistinguishable — that awful standby “wacky” pretty much covers the lot — that I found it hard to be drawn into their madcap quest. The supposedly more serious jabs at the weapons trade that bookend the film seem an afterthought — this film could be “about” anything at all without having to alter its story much. Those with a higher whimsy threshold than I will likely delight in this, but it’s Jeunet’s most minor, self-involved work to date.

“The Time That Remains” (***)

Whimsy of a blacker strain is to be found in Elia Suleiman’s alternately endearing and unreadable “The Time That Remains” — which continues the notable run of recent cinema engaging with the still-hot potato of Israeli and Palestinian conflict, though with markedly more humor and subtlety than most. Inspired loosely by the diaries of the director’s parents, the film ostensibly paints on a massive canvas as it follows one Palestinian family through six decades of political resistance, but its sketch-based structure and consistently wry tone make it feel a lot tighter and more intimate than that suggests.

The comedy of Jacques Tati is a key touchstone here, as characters finds themselves frequently (and oftenly obliviously) in conflict with their physical environment — a surreally hilarious scene wherein a tank gun pedantically follows a cellphone-yakking pedestrian at point blank is a case in point. As in his previous films, Suleiman himself is later present as a silently befuddled Hulot-style observer, but this highly idiosyncratic film is at its most resonant in its earliest scenes, where the parallels with the director’s own family history are clearest.

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13 responses so far

  • 1 10-19-2009 at 4:31 pm

    david said...

    Thanks for your thoughts on Micmacs Guy…sorry you didn’t enjoy it more. I’m not familiar with Boon, so I’ll have to see if I connect with his comic persona or not when I get a chance to catch this film. I do enjoy whimsy, so hopefully I’ll derive some enjoyment from this offering. I think if I was a film critic I would dislike attending film festivals. I like to have time to process one film before diving right into another and another.

    I’ve also been meaning to ask you something. Do film critics like yourself socialize with each other a great deal at these festivals, and do the older critics mingle with the younger ones?? Does it have the feeling of like a bunch of friends getting together, or is the atmosphere more stuffy, and less social?

  • 2 10-19-2009 at 4:50 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, as with any profession, some are more sociable than others. I certainly have friends within the circle that I’ll catch up with afterwards and share some thoughts, but I wouldn’t say extensive mingling goes on, unless it’s at a reception or party of some sort. Most critics at festivals are just rushing from one screening to another.

    I will say that I have less time for socializing at the London fest than I do when I’m away from home, when “real life” doesn’t interfere as much!

  • 3 10-19-2009 at 6:29 pm

    Me. said...

    I couldn’t disagree with the Micmacs review more. Did you even get the point of the film Guy? It was an incredibly strong critique to war and the arm trade in the world. At the end of the film, the bosses of the two arm trades were the “trash” because of getting rich by killing innocent people.

    Also, the storyline couldn’t get better. It’s goes from one imaginative idea to the next, until wrapping up with what has to be the best ending so far this year.

    Another thing that makes Micmacs stand out is the fact that it uses comedy in order to criticize war. That’s very rare today. Most films against war are in-your-face blood combats (which isn’t bad at all) but it’s nice to have a different view from time to time.

    And I remember that when I saw this film at TIFF, the film recieved a 5 minute, standing ovation. Not to mention, it was a runner-up for the audience award. I really hope this one becomes a HUGE hit. It’s a film that everyone HAS to see because it’s message is very imporant for the world we live in today.

    So, I give it my ****/****.


  • 4 10-19-2009 at 6:58 pm

    Guy said...

    I am pretty surprised at the review of Micmacs but I agree it wasn’t his best work ever. That said it still deserves a higher than 2.5 star rating simply because there are so few writer/directors out there creating intelligent films with such huge creativity. Even if you take away the message of the movie (which wasn’t as vital to me as it was to others) Micmacs remains a visual experience of such joy that it has to be both celebrated and critically recognised.

  • 5 10-19-2009 at 7:02 pm

    Me. said...

    I loved the message because with all the war that’s going on in the world. I’m pretty much sick and tired with all these murders, and for what?

    That’s, in part why I love Micmacs.

    “Micmacs remains a visual experience of such joy that it has to be both celebrated and critically recognised.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • 6 10-19-2009 at 10:02 pm

    daveylow said...

    Don’t agree with your take on Micmacs. This is a charming and ingenious film, much less annoying than Amelie. I know the director’s work is not to everyone’s taste but some of the scenes harken back to the golden age of silent comedy.

  • 7 10-20-2009 at 12:37 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I did get the point — it isn’t a subtle one, after all — but thanks for the recap. I still don’t think the arms trade agenda was integrated that well into the story, but that’s me.

    I’m really happy to hear you loved it, as I desperately wanted to myself — the level of craft and creativity up there on screen is beyond dispute.

    Daveylow: It’s not a case of Jeunet’s work not being to everyone’s taste in this instance, as I happen to like his other films (“Alien: Resurrection” excepted) very much.

  • 8 10-20-2009 at 4:56 pm

    Me. said...

    “some of the scenes harken back to the golden age of silent comedy.”

    Yes sir, “Micmacs” reminded me of Chaplin, my favorite filmmaker, in many ways. Chaplin bashed World War II and Hitler through slapstick comedy in “The Great Dictator”. The same can be said about “Micmacs” with the arm trade.

    And yes, some scenes were indisputably hilarious. This is such an amazing film!

    Also, I’m going to defend this film throughout the year because I really want it to do well internationally, like “Amélie”. It’s kind of dissapointing that the first review of the film on this site makes it look like an okay film and nothing more.

    I really hope it gets its American release date soon. It would be great to see it in the Best Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing and Sound Mixing categories (don’t forget Amélie also got some of these noms).

  • 9 10-20-2009 at 4:58 pm

    Me. said...

    And even if it seems to be impossible at this point, I would love to see Micmacs being nominated for Best Picture. At least it’s a masterpiece that’s far superior to “Precious” for me.

  • 10 10-20-2009 at 5:01 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I was personally reminded more of Buster Keaton, as I mention in the review.

    You needn’t get disappointed about one man’s opinion. After all, it was warmly reviewed at Toronto and was lapped up by the audience at the screening I attended. It’ll do well, I’m sure.

  • 11 10-20-2009 at 6:33 pm

    Me. said...

    Oh, so there was a good reception in London! Great to hear the news. And don’t worry, all art is subjective. I’m just really pushing for this one because of the lack of publicity and American distributor.

  • 12 10-21-2009 at 4:36 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    You’ll be happy to know it does have an American distributor — Sony Pictures Classics picked it up before Toronto.

  • 13 10-21-2009 at 8:02 am

    Guy said...

    Great news that an American distributor has picked it up albeit I am sure for a very limited release.