Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
A couple of quick echoes from the past, connected to Seattle revivals. The Grand Illusion brings back Richard Linklater’s 1996 film SubUrbia for a few screenings as part of their very worthy Parker Posey season; I saw the film at the New York Film Festival that year and my paragraph below is from my festival coverage for Film Comment magazine. The GI is also screening Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up this week, but when I requested a link to review it, I got shut down. Meanwhile, the Northwest Film Forum’s schedule includes a revival of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s eye-popping City of Lost Children, and while I can’t find my review of that, I did find my take on Jeunet’s Micmacs, which unfortunately isn’t up to the level of his earlier work.
Rock and roll lends texture to Richard Linklater’s subUrbia, an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play. We’re with a group of teens who are killing one long night hanging out on the outskirts of Austin (or anywhere), their usual patterns interrupted by the arrival of a former classmate turned rock star, with a bit of convenience-store violence and one bad trip added in. That’s all, but that’s more action than generally creeps into Linklater’s films. I’m still not quite sure how Bogosian’s pointed, sometimes strident sense of drama intersects with Linklater’s observant syle, where hints of melodrama get raised only to be dropped, or never heard from again. But the movie works because Linklater has such a sharp sense of the way people pass through each other’s frames of existence, drifting into the background, suddenly appearing without fanfare. And because of his eye for those bland storefronts simmering in the dead florescent light of strip-mall land; some of the establishing shots look like an Edward Hopper collection for the 1990s, with canvases of donut shops and pancake houses taking on a blank beauty despite themselves.
Give him a bunch of knick-knacks, some baling wire and scotch tape, and a few garden gnomes, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet will make a movie. How else can you explain Micmacs, a kooky little fantasia from the director of Amelie and City of Lost Children? Jeunet is a tinkerer, and he’s made a film about tinkerers.
The opening sequence introduces us to Bazil (Dany Boon), a doofus at a video store, who takes a stray bullet in the head but survives. After recovering (the bullet’s still in his noggin, but this hasn’t affected his dazed personality), Bazil falls in with a wacky troupe of misfits living at a junkyard.
You get the idea that living with this crowd is Jeunet’s idea of heaven: a contortionist (Julie Ferrier) and a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon, the delightful troll-faced acrobat from Jeunet’s other films), plus assorted mechanical and linguistic savants making oddball creations out of junk. When the movie gears up for a plot, it’s to set Bazil upon the arms manufacturers responsible for the bullet in his head (and, as it happens, the land mine that killed his father).
In this, Jeunet taps into free-floating antagonism about the fatcats of the world, and he has some fun delivering his own version of a coup de grace to the military-industrial complex. You’d have to be a former CEO of Halliburton not to enjoy these jokes, and Micmacs is indeed easy to take. Jeunet’s visual cleverness is abundant, and the audience that ate up Amelie should find much to love about this one.
I have to say that for a certain segment of the audience, Jeunet’s whimsy can begin to resemble fingernails on a blackboard. And I’m afraid I’m in that sector of the audience; when he decides he’s going to apply his winsome style to something that carries a bit of social comment, Jeunet can fall flat.
To my eyes, the director’s style, which mixes his taste for steampunk gizmos, crazy colors, and cartoon characters, is at its best when shaded by ominous material, as in the hilarious Delicatessen. Granted, a movie that begins with the main character getting shot in the head would seem to have a dark side. But Micmacs is really just a soft caramel candy with a fancy wrapper.
May 19, 2023
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.