25 June 2010
I don't have a lot to say about this film, since it's more about whimsy than it is about story. The story is: a bunch of inventive and impossibly quirky characters with nouns for names and infinite resources decide semi-spontaneously to enact a kind of strange Rube-Goldbergian psychic revenge on the arms dealers whose products twice ruined our hero's life. The whimsy, on the other hand, is near infinite, and although a little heavy at times (it's Jeunet; you ought to know what to expect), it absolutely excels at pushing its story forward with little or no dialogue, and it's got a silent movie (or a Tati movie) charm that makes the screenwriter-schoolmarm inside me sit down and shut up long enough to enjoy the movie for what it is. To put it another way: if you think you're going to love this movie you're probably right; if you think you're sick of whimsy and quirk and you're going to hate this movie you're probably right; if you're a little bit on the fence but truly willing to give the benefit of the doubt here, as I was, you'll probably enjoy this. As I did.
All I really want to add is, Jeunet is a master at casting. Even the one-scene roles like heavies and characters in the quick one-shot flashback vignettes have the most fascinating faces, expressive to the point of rubbery. Dominique Pinon (a favorite of mine for his over-expressive face and vaguely Belmondoan features) is in good company here. Both the younger girls in this, the Calculator and the Contortionist, were adorable enough that I couldn't stop watching them (Oh those quirky French girls!), but every single face in this film is as perfect and amusing as can be. The casting and performance style goes a long way toward selling the not-quite-surreal, just-kind-of-off-kilter world of our story. I think my favorite scene? Early on, our hero Bazil is too proud to accept the free food from a shelter, and so he and the woman handing it out have a quick wordless exchange in which he assures her, no he's not hungry like these poor saps, he's merely waiting at the taxi stand -- but of course the taxi shows up and he has to then pretend to get in. It's a great silent-movie moment, practically straight out of Chaplin, and it set me up for exactly what to expect from the rest of the film.
Okay, I managed to say something after all. Big surprise, I know.